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Sep 27, 2022 By Vasia Rigou
Perspective: Changemakers | Ukraine-Based YOD Group
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Designers Volodymyr Nepiyvoda and Dmytro Bonesko discuss the challenges faced during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and where they find resiliency and inspiration
By Vasia Rigou Sep 27, 2022
Published in Articles
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Nearly 20-years old, YOD Group, under the guidance of co-founders Volodymyr Nepiyvoda and Dmytro Bonesko (Pictured above), has brought to life restaurants, hotels, cafes, bars, and spas both in Ukraine and internationally—from Kazakhstan, to Saudi Arabia, and to the United States. East, a pan-Asian restaurant in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, won the 2016 IIDA Interior Design Competition award and Shade Burger, in Poltava, Ukraine, came first in the European Restaurant category at the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards in 2017. They received the IIDA Interior Design competition award for a modern Vietnamese restaurant, NĂM, in 2019. Two 2021 IIDA Global Excellence Design Awards for Samna in Kyiv, Ukraine and DOT Coffee Station #1 in Kyiv, Ukraine; and the LIV Hospitality Design Awards’ Interior Design of the Year for Buddha-Bar, New York followed in 2021. Through hard work, determination, and a unique perspective, YOD Group, named after the abbreviation "Your Own Design," is consistently creating innovative and inspirational hospitality and retail design.

On February 24, 2022, the first Russian bombs exploded in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities. Priorities changed—for the design studio and for the world at-large. Pivoting their business to support and empower their country during a crisis, the team was forced to adjust to this new reality so they started looking for ways to support their employees, strengthen the Ukrainian economy, and put design in the international spotlight.

Nepiyvoda and Bonesko do not like to stand still. Instead, they’re constantly moving forward, each time setting goals to stretch and grow. Here, they talk about the importance of utilizing creativity during a challenging time, remaining open to collaboration, and what lies ahead—in design and beyond.


First of all tell us how you are doing?

YOD Group:
We are ok, thank you for asking. We reopened our Kyiv office recently.

Can you talk a little about YOD Group, your mission, and the concept behind it?


YOD
: For 18 years we have been working in commercial design creating restaurants, hotels, and spa interiors. We chose this direction at the very beginning because we think that in commercial design you can create something radically new and anticipate trends. Your work is evaluated not by one client, but by hundreds of demanding visitors and in every instance, you should aim to impress them.

Our mission is to extend the boundaries and transform the hospitality area. We always try to step forward and create new rules for interacting with people in the food and beverage space. That’s why a few years ago, we changed our approach: More than design projects we now offer conceptual research and business solutions. Beautiful design cannot guarantee the success of the venue. So at YOD, we always strive for a more holistic approach to include design, concept creation, business consulting and more depending on the client's needs.

(Below YOD Group in their offices, image courtesy of YOD Group)

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Your work has a strong visual element integrating art and life-size installation. Where do you draw inspiration from?

YOD: Every project is an inspiration by itself! The point is that commercial design is not simply about artistic self-expression, it has to solve specific business problems, like profitability and fast payback. We aim to find the right solution for every project by researching its cultural context and the story of the building, district, or whole region. This preparation project is our biggest inspiration. We love working on challenging and ambitious tasks.

Can you talk about your practice in light of the war in Ukraine—how have you been affected, and what aspects of your practice have remained steady?

YOD Group
: War affects everything and everyone. Unfortunately, you cannot live in Ukraine and expect our lives to remain steady. In the beginning, after the 24th of February [when Russia invaded Ukraine], we were busy relocating our stuff from Kharkiv and opening a new office in Lviv. Kharkiv is located in the Eastern part of Ukraine, close to the Russian border. They shell it every day, and most of the people had to run away from the city because it isn’t safe to stay there anymore. Lviv, on the other hand, is the biggest city in Western Ukraine. It is far from Russia and closer to the Polish and Hungarian borders so it’s supposed to be the safest region of Ukraine. Some of our employees were moved there. Another part of our team temporarily stays in different countries outside of Ukraine and they continue to work remotely. Thanks to the pandemic and the lockdown experience a year ago, we became really good at it!

We have also been participating in different volunteering processes—nowadays it is difficult to find anyone in Ukraine who isn’t. Everyone collects money to support their friends or relatives who serve in the military, provide shelter for refugees, or evacuate animals from the front line. Everyone spends a significant part of their income on some form of charity. It is a constant process and a part of our routine now.

One of our volunteering projects was designing the interior of an orphanage that was evacuated from Kharkiv in collaboration with Dobrodeearium [a nonprofit humanitarian foundation dedicated to saving the orphans of Ukraine by evacuating existing orphanages away from immediate danger, providing them with shelter, food, and protection, and gathering and delivering humanitarian aid as needed]. They found an empty building in Western Ukraine that we adopted as a living and learning facility for 100 kids of different ages. We had to work really fast on this project too, because children were staying in different temporary shelters and were waiting to get to their new home. You can find more about the organization that invited us to participate here: https://dobrodeearium.com/

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The award-winning Dot cafe designed by YOD Group. Image courtesy of YOD Group.
The award-winning Dot cafe designed by YOD Group. Image courtesy of YOD Group.
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Grand Emily Hotel designed by the YOD Group. Image courtesy of YOD Group.
Grand Emily Hotel designed by the YOD Group. Image courtesy of YOD Group.

Tell us a bit about the process of pivoting your business to support and empower your country and people during this crisis.

YOD Group
: In general, it works as it used to before the Russian full-scale invasion. We work in our studios in Kyiv and Lviv. These days we mostly rely on our international clients and foreign projects because almost all projects in Ukraine are frozen or on hold. War is not the best time to open a restaurant, you know? Now we have five projects in our pipeline instead of the 15-20 that we used to have a year ago.

Our government has called on everyone to work. It is important to keep the economy alive, pay taxes, and spend money in Ukraine. We don’t want our country to turn into one that functions solely from international funds—we can earn it. We believe everyone now feels that responsibility. People are incredibly united and purposeful about it.

In what ways has the team adjusted to this new reality as you look for ways to put design in the international spotlight, support your employees, and strengthen the Ukrainian economy?

YOD Group: We just work a lot. Also, we feel strong support from the international design community. We are grateful for all the international design competitions that provided special prizes or even free participation for Ukrainian studios. It helps us to stay in the worldwide design context and get a lot of attention. We thank all the editors and journalists who write about our situation, Ukraine, and Ukrainian design. It is invaluable support. And, we are incredibly grateful to our clients who trust us to design their new restaurants and hotels.

“We are good at creativity, thoughtful zoning, technical aspects, and thinking out of the box,” you have said. How are you applying those skills to this challenging time of the ongoing Ukraine invasion?

YOD Group: We’d say just in the same way as it used to be. We keep working on international projects as well as on our big projects in Western Ukraine, a few of which were launched during the war. A few examples include Terra restaurant, Emily Event Hall, and Grand Emily Hotel in Vinniky town, all of which belong to the newly opened Emily Resort.

How do you see this experience impacting design, both in the present day and in the future considering both struggles and moments of optimism?

YOD Group: Experience shapes our personalities and our vision. It will definitely reflect on our work. We’re looking forward to seeing how Ukrainian interiors will look like in five years.

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YOD Group-designed Buddha Bar in New York. Image courtesy of YOD Group.
YOD Group-designed Buddha Bar in New York. Image courtesy of YOD Group.

What are some real ways to support Ukraine—both within the design community and beyond?

YOD Group
: We encourage you to explore more about Ukraine culture, invite Ukrainian design studios to cooperate on your international projects, hire Ukrainian professionals, and buy Ukrainian goods. We have colleagues who produce some unique and top-quality furniture and decoration. You can find a lot of their products on international design platforms.

As a commercial design studio with some experience working in the USA, we are open to participating in new projects. A few years ago we designed the interior of the Buddha-Bar New York and then created the architecture for a cottage town in Pennsylvania. We believe that we can be useful for creating bright and ambitious projects abroad.

What are you optimistic about?

YOD Group
: Ukrainian victory, of course.

Looking for meaningful ways to help Ukraine? YOD Group recommends:
Support Ukraine Now

War in Ukraine

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