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Saturday night fever: The subway where Kiev's pensioners dance and find love

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  • The dancers cannot afford to pay for a venue so they use a metro subway
  • The group meets every Saturday at 7pm to socialise and dance
  • About 20 couples are known to have met thanks to the meet-ups
  • Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich documented the weekly gatherings

By Helen Lawson

PUBLISHED: 17:04 EST, 3 March 2013 | UPDATED: 18:01 EST, 3 March 2013

At first glance, these photographs may look like any other dance hall.

Then you notice that many of the dancers are wrapped up for the cold.

In central Kiev, pensioners meet up in a subway near the Teatralna metro station every Saturday to see friends and dance the night away.

They are allowed to use the public passage by authorities in the Ukrainian capital because they cannot afford to pay for a venue.

For the gathering's attendees, it is one of the few opportunities they have to meet and socialise

The gathering for pensioners has taken place every Saturday for about 20 years in an underpass near a city centre metro station

The gathering for pensioners has taken place every Saturday for about 20 years in an underpass near a city centre metro station

For the gathering's attendees, it is one of the few opportunities they have to meet and socialise

Pensioners hug as they dance in an underpass in central Kiev, which becomes a disco on Saturday nights

Pensioners hug as they dance in an underpass in central Kiev, which becomes a disco on Saturday nights

Some of the dancers wear traditional folk costumes while others favour the practicality of scarves and coats

Some of the dancers wear traditional folk costumes while others favour the practicality of scarves and coats

Nikolai Milevsky, 75, and Natalya Stolyarenko, 58, dance in an underpass in central Kiev - where they first met

Nikolai Milevsky, 75, and Natalya Stolyarenko, 58, dance in an underpass in central Kiev - where they first met

The underground gatherings have been documented by Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich, who says he first encountered the 'subway disco' about 20 years ago, but did not take much notice.

Now, he has returned with his camera to tell their story - and one couple in particular caught his eye.

Nikolai Milevsky, born in 1938, and Natalya Stolyarchuk, born in 1955, met at the dances and have since moved in together - one of about twenty couples who have formed out of the gatherings.

Garanich went to their home, which they have shared for four years, and photographed them getting ready for their weekly appointment with the makeshift ballroom.

The couple are seen sprucing themselves up before sharing a tender kiss and leaving for their night out.

Despite their ages, the pair are still working.

Mr Milevsky gets dressed before heading out dancing at the home he shares with Ms Stolyarchuk

Mr Milevsky gets dressed before heading out dancing at the home he shares with Ms Stolyarchuk

Natalya Stolyarchuk prepares for a night of dancing

Natalya Stolyarchuk prepares for a night of dancing

Mr Milevsky and Ms Stolyarchuk are one of a few couples that have formed out of the gatherings

Mr Milevsky and Ms Stolyarchuk are one of a few couples that have formed out of the gatherings

The couple share a kiss before heading out for the night

The couple share a kiss before heading out for the night

Their joint monthly income from their pensions is only 4,000 hryvnias - the equivalent of about £327.

He wrote in a blogpost: 'The reason they dance is also well understood – this is probably the most affordable way to while away their spare time and communicate.

'Yet the main problem of the elderly generation in this country is that they feel unneeded by the state and people that surround them.

'This generation grew up in the Soviet Union. Many cannot adjust to a completely different lifestyle or reconcile with new realities and values.

'They don’t understand communication via social networks, but they still clearly remember the way all holidays were celebrated during their childhood and youth; when tables laden with food were brought out, and neighbors from the same street or house would sit down together and then dance to the tune of an accordion through the night.

Garanich's time at the subway has led him to dwell on why the gatherings mean so much to the dancers.

He wrote: 'These dances are recollections about their youth and about that time.

'It’s an opportunity to return there – if only in their thoughts, only for a few hours.

A young couple hugs as Nikolai Milevsky and Natalia Stolyarchuk dance in the central Kiev underpass

A young couple hugs as Nikolai Milevsky and Natalia Stolyarchuk dance in the central Kiev underpass

A police officer patrols the subway while the party goes on behind him

A police officer patrols the subway while the party goes on behind him

Despite the cold, the dances still attract a healthy turnout because it is an affordable way to socialise

Despite the cold, the dances still attract a healthy turnout because it is an affordable way to socialise

'I have noticed that many of them never smile, and even dances cannot draw them away from gnawing problems such as the misunderstanding of their own children, poor health, the death of their loved ones, abject poverty and despair.

'The same dances, however, literally transform others. It suddenly seems that they look younger, with kingly bearings and glittering eyes.

'For many of them, these meetings are a rare chance of lively communication and an escape from loneliness after the loss of close friends.'

Women smile as they dance among others in Kiev

Women smile as they dance among others in Kiev

The musicians and dancers gather every week as a chance to see friends

The musicians and dancers gather every week as a chance to see friends

Pensions in Ukraine are low so the free dances are the best way to keep in touch with friends

Pensions in Ukraine are low so the free dances are the best way to keep in touch with friends

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