The tide of chaos turned quickly on Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, this year. If you’ve been living under a rock lately, Kiev was recently the center of violent protests for weeks. After pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych fled the country, Russia took advantage of the lack of organized government in Ukraine to clandestinely annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea using an unmarked military occupation, an Orwellian takeover of the media, and a disputed public vote of secession from Ukraine. Now the region is a tinderbox of tension and economic sanctions, and Russia is getting kicked out of the G8 summit.
Cold War rhetoric has found its rebirth, and I’m rewatching Red Dawn to get in the spirit. “Wolverines!”
None of that had yet crossed the minds of the Ukrainian people when Pally Learmond, Antti Ollila, Frej Jonsson, Max Hill, and Laurent Favre visited the capital city of Kiev last winter. On a whim inspired by a video game, the crew took to the streets of Kiev last winter.
– Christopher D. Thompson
Learmond tells the tale, as first seen in Freeskier’s 2014 Photo Annual, issue 16.5:
“‘Why the hell are we here again? Why Kiev?’ I’m asking myself as I hand money to yet another corrupt traffic police officer for a crime I didn’t commit.
The skiing world is getting small. Most street skiing spots have been explored, and it is only with serious research and detailed planning that somewhere even remotely new and unskied gets visited. Arriving at the decision to go and shoot street in the capital city of Ukraine, however, was not one of those cases.
Rewind six months and Legs of Steel filmer Andre Nutini is nursing a Sunday morning hangover in Kelowna, British Columbia by playing Call of Duty on the Xbox with his buddies. The level they’re working through on this particular shoot ’em up game portrays a bleak, cold and depressing urban environment that is, frankly, the epitome of desolation and despair. “Wow, imagine skiing there,” suggests Andre. “What level is this?” he inquires. Looking back at the menu, he finds that the level is based on Chernobyl, site of what is widely considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. Curiosity aroused, his quick Google and Wiki searches reveal that Chernobyl lies in the former Soviet Ukraine, and it would be nearly impossible to take skis and equipment into the rigorously enforced exclusion zone that now surrounds the disaster site (although I’m sure that with enough money, you could).
The capital city, Kiev, is located in the north central part of the country and is wrapped in snow and freezing temperatures for most of the winter months—definitely an option for an off-the-map, street skiing mission. Pulled over in our van among the hulking apartment buildings that seem crushed under low, heavy skies, we are living the reality of the most bizarre answer to my original question: We are in Kiev as the result of a hangover, a computer game, Google maps and Wikipedia.
In hindsight, it was a damn good call to go to Kiev. OK, we all left the country in some kind of altered state of consciousness and maybe even a little traumatized by some of the events, but the overall Ukrainian experience was all and more than I could have hoped for. It was a fun challenge to unleash at least a little of the street skiing potential in a great city. And it will be even more than interesting to see where we go from here.”
For more from Pally Learmond, visit his website.
This article originally appeared in the 2014 January issue of Freeskier, Volume 16.5. Freeskier Magazine is available via the iTunes newsstand.