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Wild nights in Ukraine at 'Europe's biggest party'

By Barry Neild for CNN
  • Kazantip "rave" was originally held on the abandoned building site of a nuclear reactor
  • Founder calls himself "president" of the Kazantip Republic
  • Organizers say the event attracts 150,000 visitors a year, from across the world

CNN's global series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In January, we visit Ukraine and look at changes shaping the country's economy, culture and social fabric.

(CNN) -- Kazantip is the biggest music festival you've never heard of -- a month-long celebration of dance music and debauchery on Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Each summer the sleepy seaside village of Popovka is overrun by thousands of techno-loving hedonists who become a self-contained community devoted to vodka-fueled beach partying.

But for its organizers, Kazantip is not a music festival -- it is an independent "republic."

Nikita Marshunok is the event's founder, and the self-proclaimed president the "Republic of Kazantip."

"What makes Kazantip different from other music events is that music for us is not the main event," says Marshunok.

"We're not a festival and the citizens of Kazantip are not just some attendees of some festival -- but the great Kazantipian nation."

Kazantip is certainly different. It was created in the dying days of the Soviet Union to meet Russian and Ukrainian young people's desire to emulate rave-style parties becoming increasingly popular in western Europe.

We really have the highest density of happy people per square foot.
--Kazantip's "president" Nikita Marshunok

The event was originally held at an abandoned nuclear power station building site on the Black Sea shore that Marshunok stumbled across while he was searching for a beach to hold a windsurfing championship (Marshunok is a former champion windsurfer.)

It has since moved to Popovka, but retained its original ethos of wild partying, free love and a bone-shaking techno, trance and house music.

From a relatively small affair, Kazantip has grown to its present-day incarnation. Organizers say its 10 dance floors attract around 150,000 visitors each year, which they claim makes it the largest rave in Europe.

To maintain the conceit of nationhood, visitors to Kazantip buy visas rather than tickets, and must abide by a constitution encouraging non-promiscuous love, outlawing intolerance, and clarifying who gets to jump the line for toilets.

By day Kazantip's typically scantily-clad revelers laze on the beach, recovering from the night before. By night, as the vodka flows, the electronic music pounds and the laser shows dazzle, they dance.

Most camp out on the beach but others stay in the guest houses and private rooms that have sprung up in nearby villages to accommodate the annual rave migrants.

While the DJs performing at the event are announced in advance, there is no fixed schedule. DJs often play unannounced, where and when the organizers decide. For some, the lack of structure is part of the appeal. German DJ Timo Maas, who played at Kazantip in 2007, described it as "the wildest, most anarchic s*** in the world."

It's not to everyone's taste though. Some visiting Kazantip have described a surreal mix of glitzy hedonism, open-air sex, relentless music and increasing commercialization, all contrasting sharply with the economically-struggling local community.

Though it brings a considerable financial boost to that community, Marshunok says not everyone welcomes Kazantip's arrival.

"It must be said, at times the local authorities don't really appreciate all these marvelous benefits and try to give us a hard time. However, fighting against us, as you know is like fighting against a shadow. The shadow never gives a s***."

It's a battle that most visitors are oblivious to, with ravers from across Europe and the world (described by Marshunok as a "strange mix of people" and "real psychos in the finest sense of the word") making the pilgrimage.

This year's event starts at the end of July and continues throughout August. DJs have not been confirmed, but previous events have featured dance music icons such as Carl Cox, Paul van Dyk and Armin van Buuren.

With no sign of its popularity waning, Marshunok promises Kazantip's winning formula will ensure it is "there till the end."

"We compulsorily make people find a way to be happy," he says. "But, truth be told, we create conditions too. And it, by the way, it does work -- we really have the highest density of happy people per square foot."