The Ukrainian architect, of Bureau Balbek, talks about the situation from the front, where he has set up a network of volunteers offering up to 13,000 meals a day as well as emergency accommodations for refugees

Slava Balbek is a Ukrainian architect, founder and CEO of the studio Balbek Bureau. Since the outbreak of the Russian invasion, he has decided to actively help his people, creating a network of volunteers that offers up to 13,000 meals a day, and designing a series of lodgings to house refugees.

“According to the Kremlin, Russia aims to annihilate Ukrainian cultural heritage and historical heritage to contradict the existence of Ukraine as a nation. I am confident that we will be able to rebuild our country, it will be a historical reconstruction that will inspire the world”, says the designer from Kiev.

What is the current situation in Ukraine? Where are you now?

I have been in Kiev ever since the Russian invasion started. Ukrainian forces have recently regained control of the Kiev area, so the capital is relatively safe, however, the risk of missile attacks remains, and Russian saboteurs are still infiltrating the city. Currently, Russia is threatening with an offensive on eastern Ukraine, also controlling several cities in the south. The situation is very tense, to say the least.

Having seen with my own eyes the aftermath of the Russian atrocities in Bucha and Irpin, I am furious, but I am doing my best to turn this hatred and anger into action through work and volunteering. I am focused, determined and willing to support our country in all ways.

What was the immediate impact of the war on your life, your family and your Balbek Bureau team? And how did it reorganize itself?

I would be lying if I said I was fully prepared for war, even though our studio had envisioned different work scenarios in the event of an invasion. So after I moved my family to a safer place, I took a short break to get my ideas together quickly. As most of my team relocated to Europe or Western Ukraine, we decided to continue working on our overseas projects to support our studio and stay afloat as a company supporting the 'economy.

We are in talks for some new commercial projects (mostly abroad, while most of the local projects have been discontinued) and we contribute to Ukraine's future with our volunteer initiatives, for example RE: Ukraine, the modular urban system for refugees.

Some of our teammates have joined the Territorial Defense Forces, others have chosen to volunteer full time, but we remain active as a team and feel more united than ever.

He created Kyiv Volunteer, converting the two coffee shops Dubler and Dyletant, which he designed and co-owns in Kiev, into a food hub offering up to 13,000 meals a day.

Since the Kyiv Territorial Defense Forces were already full, I looked for another way to help. In addition to architecture, I work in catering, so I immediately thought of transforming Dubler and Dyletant cafes into food hubs, to feed the people who protect and help Kiev.

We started on our own, and now the Kyiv Volunteer Team unites twenty cafes and restaurants, three bakeries and over five hundred volunteers from all walks of life, from artists and psychologists to developers and engineers. In addition to the military, doctors and Kiev residents in need, we also provide meals to people who have suffered Russian occupation in Bucha and Irpin. War is not a sprint, but a marathon, so it is equally essential to be of help in the rear and to support the workers on the front lines and all those affected by the war waged by Russia.

How do you manage the volunteer network, donations and logistics? Is your experience as an architect and founder of a studio helping you in this endeavor?

Some people may think that volunteering is about empathy, but as I see it it is primarily organizational work, you need to be able to create efficient workflow, logistics and even HR management.

So yes, I think my experience as the founding CEO of an architecture firm is useful, as well as my background sports , as an amateur triathlete I am tough and resilient even under stress . But I know for a fact that none of my skills would matter if it weren't for the great chefs, managers, drivers and other professionals I completely trust, they are the driving force behind Kyiv Volunteer.

With his architecture studio Balbek Bureau, he proposes RE: Ukraine, a modular system to welcome refugees.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 11.3 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the war. These are 4.2 million refugees who have had to go abroad in search of safety and 7.1 million displaced people who have found refuge elsewhere in the interior of Ukraine.

RE: Ukraine is a modular urban system to accommodate displaced persons, the aim of the project is to guarantee a dignified lifestyle for people who have been forced to leave their homes. We have developed different masterplan options depending on the size and condition of the land, the local production capacity and the proximity of the construction sites.

We also consider adapting the existing modular constructions created by local producers to our key requirements: convenience, decent living conditions for displaced people and respect for the environment. According to our plans, when some residents move into permanent housing, these temporary structures will be dismantled and reused. Our team has developed master plans for several plots of land, mainly in western Ukraine, we are also in talks with landowners in other cities and towns.

How can international and Ukrainian designers, architects and creatives help you now, and in the future? Are you already in contact with other designers?

As RE:Ukraine, we have received partnership offers from Turkey, Germany, Poland, Japan, Canada, United States, United Arab Emirates, Israel and Lithuania.

In addition to this, together with the Bund Deutscher Baumeister (the association of builders, architects and engineers of Germany), we are working on a project to involve students of architecture schools German. In addition, a design studio in Leipzig offered us to develop a set of documentation according to European standards.

Together with Ikonia, we are working on 3D models of objects and elements that will be available as NFT, all proceeds will go towards the development of the project. To provide professional emergency relief with RE: Ukrain e, we are expanding our team and working to establish regional representative offices throughout Ukraine.

If spoken of in terms of mass destruction in a broader sense, the tragedy runs deeper, unfortunately: according to the Kremlin, Russia aims to annihilate Ukrainian cultural heritage and historical heritage to contradict Ukraine's existence as a nation. Our community of architects and creatives is strong and talented, yet the war has made us even more motivated and united. I am confident that we will be able to rebuild our country, it will be a historical reconstruction that will inspire the world, just like our struggle for freedom and the battle for Ukraine.

He said it is important to remain optimistic to stay focused, to analyze, to group and to act. What are your feelings and thoughts right now? And what message do you want to send to the international community that is reading it?

I remain as calm and motivated as possible, my work brings benefits real, I see how effective our efforts are and the results we achieve. Still, I realize how much work we can still do. I wish the international community could support a cause they find important, such as talk about the war waged by Russia in Ukraine, or make a donation to charitable funds: