Issue 27

Wheels Of Hope

Words by Thomas Girondel.

I met professional skateboarder Yurii Korotun near the Maïdan Square in Kiyv, Ukraine while doing a reportage in 2018. A skateboarder myself since my childhood, we have exchanged stories and experiences about our common passion and kept in touch via social networks.

Now 25 years old Yurii called me a few days before the Russian invasion of his country. Sensing the threat and having no more income, he decided to flee Ukraine with his wife, travelling with only a minimum luggage. After a short stay in Turkey, they moved to Hanover, Germany at the end of February.

[At the time of writing] Almost three months after the beginning of the conflict, 402,651 of the 6 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled Ukraine due to the war have been welcomed in Germany. The city of Hanover is one of the most significant convenient drop-off points: its geographical position marks it a major hub to the north of the country as well as other countries of the European Union.

Accompanied by 25-year-old Ukrainian professional skateboarder Yurii Korotun (L), young Ukrainian refugees leave in the morning the Hall 27 of Messegelände in the outskirt of Hanover. In the beginning of March, the Deutsche Messe has converted the huge fair ground of 31,000-square-meter to host Ukrainian families who fled their country. Hanover is an important hub for the Ukrainian refugees in Northern Germany, before they eventually find a long term accommodation in the country or within the European Union. The Hall 27 has the capacity of 1,152 sleeping places. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

To deal with the large influx of refugees, the City of Hanover together with the federal state of Lower Saxony, has rented the huge Hall 27 of the trade fair grounds (Messegelände) to host Ukrainian families. The 31,100-square-meter hall is home to 1,152 people waiting for long-term accommodation. Among these refugees, there are countless children and teenagers, lost on the outskirts of the city, waiting for better days.

In the morning Yurii follows the young Ukrainians before mounting in the tram located in the city center. The city of Hanover offers to all refugees’free public transportation to give them the opportunity to discover the capital of Lower Saxony. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

In the Nordstadt district, Yurii and the Ukrainian rookies walk towards the Gleis D Skatehalle before the initiation of the skateboarding workshop which starts at 10.30am. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

At Gleis D indoor Skatehalle, Ukrainian professional skateboarder Yurii Korotun and the young volunteers who joined the free proposed courses are warming up on a mini half pipe. Before practicing skateboarding Yurii explains how to stretch before performing tricky moves. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

Yurii helps Karina, 14 from Odessa, to fasten her helmet. Thanks to a partnership with European online Skateshop Blue Tomato who wished to support the positive initiative of giving skateboarding courses to the refugees, Gleis D Skatehalle’staff received from the company numerous free skateboards and protective gears such as helmets, elbow and knee pads for the rookies. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

The idea was to allow these kids to rebuild themselves, both physically and mentally, after having lost everything and having spent countless days on the road in exile. Because skateboarding is both playful and difficult, it demands attention and perseverance while allowing everyone to express themselves freely at the same time.

Yurii shares the basics of skateboarding with 14-year-old Karina from Dnipro. In exchange for giving free courses of 5 hours, the Gleis D’staff gave to Yurii a fixed term contract of 2 months. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Yurii teaches beginners how to hold onto a skateboard and maintain balance. Most of these kids have never practiced skateboarding before. The free classes started on April 6th with less than 7 children from Messe refugee camp. Since, the classes became popular. The capacity is now limited to 25 kids and teenagers in order to provide them all the necessary safety conditions. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

The best technique to "drop" a half pipe is to place the feet parallel to the board, "On the screws." advises Yurii. 12-year-old Vadim from the Zhytomyr Oblast quickly succeeds in this risky move. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

The best technique to "drop" a half pipe is to place the feet parallel to the board, "On the screws." advises Yurii. 12-year-old Vadim from the Zhytomyr Oblast quickly succeeds in this risky move. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

Thanks to the result of a call for donations, but also with the help of the Association for the Promotion of Culture and Sport among Young People and the members of the Gleis D Skatehalle of Hanover, Yurii has been giving free skateboarding lessons to the children of refugees since April 6. Twice a week for five hours a day he offers them a breath of fresh air and a creative outlet.

After having learned how to keep the balance, the rookies learn how to roll without falling. Karina is held by Yurii to move forward.

One of the most difficult basic skill is to roll down a mini half pipe without falling while keeping the balance. Yuri holds Ruslan’s hands, 12 to "drop" while trying not to fall. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

Whereas 9-year-old Antoni from Kyiv rides easily the mini half pipe, volunteer Valle explains to Erika how to place her feet on a skateboard before "dropping". Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

While Makar, 11 from Dnipro struggles to find his balance, Yurii performs an "Ollie" and lifts his board off the ground under the curious eyes of Karina, Abdullah and Svyatoslav. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Gleis D Skatehalle chairman Tim Löbel, 29 distributes prepared lunches to the Ukrainians before joining the dining room on the indoor terrace. The meals, funded by donations from an online campaign are prepared twice a week by volunteers Mohamed and Jens. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

After a slow start and although the majority has never practiced skateboarding before, the number of young Ukrainians between 9 to 17 eager to discover this non-competitive activity has hit off and continues to grow. Under the supervision of volunteers, the mixed workshops reach a maximum capacity of 25 people per session. As the hours and days go by, the refugees learn beyond language barriers the unique terminology of skateboarding, their balance on the board stabilizes, everyone’s confidence increases and smiles return.

Quiet time. Rusland and Erika plays with their mobile phones, while 14-year-old Mascha from Kharkiv laughs as she stares at her skateboarding mates. Not like any sports, skateboarding offers the freedom to rest as people’s wish. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

Refugees play table tennis with Valle. Located close to a train track with in an indoor and outdoor area of over 2300-square-meter the Gleis D Skatehalle in Hanover which was created 5 years ago offers for all skill levels the practice of skateboarding and BMX. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

While a German train I.C.E (Intercity Express) passes-by the Gleis D Skatehalle, 12-year-old Abdullah stares at Yurii Korotun performing a trick on an outdoor mini half pipe.  Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

Yurii’s initiative is now popular in the Hall 27 shelter. While waiting to find a better place to live with their families in the upcoming weeks, the kids hurry to attend the workshops – hoping that one day they will ride the skateparks and roll over the streets of their respective Ukrainian hometowns.

Abdullah, 12, Dnipro

”I arrived in Hanover with my family the 9th of March.

I didn’t know what to think about skateboarding, which is something I didn’t try before arriving in Germany.

But I wanted to try with Yurii. It was a good occasion to get out of the Messegelände [the refugee camp].

But when I saw him [Yurii] doing skateboarding tricks, I was so amazed and curious about all the possibilities you can have and do.

When we started learning basic tricks, like how to push, to ride, and to drop mini half pipes I really enjoyed it. Yurii really motivate us to carry on” Abdullah, 12, Dnipro.

Vadim, 12 Zhytomyr Oblast

“I don’t remember which month I arrived here, but I know when travelled a lot.

Before Yurii came to us we were bored...

I really like skateboarding and learning new tricks. I start to have the good basics thanks to the courses twice a week.

I’m surprised that I can already ride, push and move freely a little bit everywhere in the indoor park as I practiced only once skateboarding in Ukraine, but it was the deck of my friend. I learn quick!

To me skateboarding is above all a sport. To do tricks and to progress” Vadim, 12 - Zhytomyr Oblast

Karina, 14 Odessa

“I arrived in Hanover some time ago. Skateboarding really helps me during this terrible situation for my country.

Before Yurii came to us we stayed all day long in and outside Messe. But we had the chance to visit the city as we have free public transportation.

I started skateboarding in Ukraine before and I continue here in Germany. This is so much fun, it’s hard but nice to learn new tricks in the big wooden skatepark.

There is music, we have lunch, the team is kind and we are well welcome…

To me skateboarding represents a mix between sport and culture” Karina, 14 Odessa

Erika, 12 - Dnipro

”I arrived in Hanover with my family on March 9th. I left my country six days before.

I am very happy to be able to pratice skateboarding here. It’s interesting to be able to learn it which changes from being in the camp [...]

Here you can let off steam and feel free with a board. I understand now why young and old people do like skateboarding. It’s not like football, you can do it wherever and whenever you want.

This is the second time I come here to and I’d like to continue more often" Erika, 12, Dnipro

Bogdan, 10 (L) - Donetsk , Makar, 11 (R) Dnipro

”I arrived in Hanover on March 16th after fleeing Donetsk at the end of February. I don’t remember exactly how long we were on the road. You should ask mum.

This is my third time here and I love it. I’ve never skated it before” - Bogdan, 10, Donetsk

”My family and I left Ukraine on March 10th, then we stayed in Poland for a while, before arriving in Hanover at the beginning of April.

I am very happy to be able to skate. I started skateboarding in Ukraine but here you really have the possibility to progress and at the same time you have so much fun” Makar, 11 - Dnipro

Dyma, 15 Kharkiv

”I arrived here on March 6th after spending a lot of time walking with my family, then on buses and trains nights and days when we fled Ukraine.

This is not the first time I skate. I was already rolling in the streets of Kharkiv with my friends. But I could not carry my board with me when we fled.

This is the first time I’m going to a skatepark. I was very happy that Yurii came to offer us some skateboarding courses. Now I want to buy a skateboard and ride through the Hanover.

When the war will be over I will go back to the big Ukrainian skateparks with my friends. I will show them all the tricks I’m learning here” Dyma, 15 - Kharkiv

Arthur, 15 Kyiv

I arrived in Hanover on March 16th and this is the first city I discovered after moving out with my family.

This is the first time I skate in my life and I love it.

I am progressing very fast, I found my balance and Yurii and the skatepark’s volunteers help us a lot.

I wish I could buy a board. I want to become a skateboarder like the ones you watch on internet" Arthur, 15 - Kyiv

Karina, 14 Dnipro

”I arrived in Hanover on March 9th and it was the first city and country where my family and I settled when everything started.

This is the second time in my life that I can ride and that’s really cool.

I like skateboarding, it changes my mind. I would like to continue while growing up because we share a lot of things, it’s not just an individual sport.

I knew some skateparks in my country but I didn’t really know how to ride before. But now I can stand and roll, I will progress and when I will go home I will do it more often” Karina, 14 - Dnipro

Antoni, 9, Kyiv

“I arrived in Hanover 5 days ago. I left Kyiv when it started (...) I joined my family in Poland and then we were in Berlin. And I ended up in Hanover.

It’s been a year I know Yurii since we met each other in Kyiv. I met him several times because we were skating together with my brother Vita. And this is when I started skateboarding actually.

It is better to be here at Gleis D than staying at the refugee camp. But actually we gonna move in a flat in Berlin. So it’s been 5 days we are in the city and today is the last one we are skating here” Antoni, 9 - Kyiv

Daniel, 17 - Odessa

A week after the war started, we fled Odessa. We went to Poland, Berlin [...] Then we stayed in Koblenz for a while before arriving in Hanover...

In Germany there are more opportunities for skateboarding, there are plenty of skateparks and I’m glad to be able to keep myself busy after school.

German people are very supportive for the Ukrainian cause and even in the German skateboarding community.

Skateboarding is more than a sport. It’s a culture. It started to develop slowly before the war: there were infrastructures in Kiyv and Odessa.

But here it’s the paradise, you can express yourself more easily on a board, it’s well established and it helps me to integrate quickly into my new lifeDaniel, 17 - Odessa

Makar, Vanya, Arthur, Svyatoslav, Erika, Karina, Bogdan, and 17-year-old American volunteer Gael stare at Yurii performing a trick. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Yurii adjusts the truck’s flexibility of Karina’s skateboard. Hanover, Germany - 14/04/2022

After a few free classes at the Gleis D Skatehalle, some of the Ukrainian rookies are becoming more self-assured and balanced on the board. Erika, followed by Karina, pushes and rides towards a wooden quarter half pipe. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

9-year-old sesoned Antoni grinds a rail on a pyramid- like wooden ramp. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

13-year-old Vanya from Zhytomyr Oblast rolls down a pyramid-like wooden ramp while Abdullah approaches it. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Portrait of Gleis D Skatehalle chairman Tim Löbel, 29. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

"I’ve been managing the Gleis D Skatehalle for 5 years which is part of the non- profit Association for the Promotion of Youth Culture and Sport (Verein zur Förderung von Jugendkultur und Sport) of Hanover.

We propose to the Ukrainian refugees two playgrounds of around 2300 square meters to practice skateboarding (or whatever they want) which actually have been built by ourselves. It is a mix of wooden and concrete handmade constructions for all the community in Hanover (BMX riders and skateboarders).

One day, my colleagues told me that a Ukrainian skateboarder fled the war and was in town: Yurii wanted to help the young refugees from his country by teaching them skateboarding. I thought it was a positive action for the kids.

A lot of them arrive in the city and stay in the massive fair ground of Messegelände. Hanover is a huge hub where the Ukrainian can stay before finding somewhere else, a better place to live. Most of the time these families who lost everything stay at Messe for two or three weeks.

We proposed a 2 month fixed-term contract to Yurii within the club of Gleis D. In exchange, he gives skateboarding courses to the kids who want to come over. We also started a donation campaign with our own small foundation to collect money. So far we’re reaching approximately 1000€. These donations help us, among others, to prepare lunches for the kids.

I’m really happy that they can get out of the camp [...] It’s on the outskirt of town, far away from everything and there’s nothing for them there. Here they can learn and discover a culture. They can even have fun with scooters or BMXs.

At the Skatehalle nothing is strict, it’s not like football where you have certain hours to play. It’s a free sport, mixed, ageless and they can move freely without constraints. You can ride 30 minutes then talk and rest. And if you want to have fun with table tennis that’s possible too!

Some kids or teenagers were already skateboarders in Ukraine, so the youngest can actually watch and learn, and the oldest can share their knowledge. It’s a windfall for them during such a tough time: skateboarding can actually be a nice way to forget the war and change your mind.

I’m sure these kids will remember the city of Hanover and Gleis D Skatehalle as a joyful and positive memory [...]"

17-year-old skateboarder Daniel from Odessa performs a "Flip" over the pyramid-like wooden ramp. Hanover, Germany - 20/04/2022

Without help and self-confident Erika and Arthur ride and push at the top of a slope-like wooden ramp before dropping it. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

On his skateboard Yurii gives tips to Abdullah, Karina, Erika, Svyatoslav, Makar, Arthur and Bogdan. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Portrait of skateboarder Yurii Korotun holding a skateboard with the Russian words "No War" color customized with the Ukrainian flag. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

“In November I was waiting for a pro-model deck from a Ukrainian skateboarding brand while working as an assistant in a film producing company (...) but everything collapsed. There were no jobs anymore: our clients didn’t want to come over because the situation was too tensed in the country…

[…] So I was jobless and I left Ukraine the 12th of February (…) I spent some time with my girlfriend in Turkey. And when the war started we immediately came to Hanover, Germany, which is her hometown.

I decided to be hyperactive: I couldn’t sit around and watch the breaking news on TV [about the Russian’s army invasion] I wanted to use my skills as a skateboarder to help the people. One day I met 40-year-old German skateboarder Dan, and we both noticed that a lot of Ukrainian refugees were already in Hanover.

He got me in touch with the Gleis D community and I eventually met restless entrepreneur Heiko Heybey, 52 who does a lot for the attractiveness of the city. We shared the same ideas for helping the refugees so we started the project.

The latter is based on the Gleis D funds, as the Skatehalle has its own network which actually supports us with donations. With chairman Tim Löbel and the staff we organized everything (...) from the skate courses to the lunches for 25 kids in addition to promote the project with social networks: we wanted to spread the word as fast as possible!

[…] We run workshops twice a week. It’s been already a month and a half that we started, but it could be great to run 2 more per week, so I could introduce them to cultural topics. Every session we have between 18 and 25 kids coming from the Messe refugee’s camp.

To me, skateboarding was the best way for them getting out of their current situation: the 6th day of the war, I put my feet on my board and realized I felt as concentrated as when I started as a kid. I felt good [...] I thought that could be a great thing for the young refugees instead of staying at the Messe’s camp. Concentration, the balance’s work, the desire not to fall and to learn new tricks give them an opportunity to escape the reality.

So excepting if they want to talk about the current events in Ukraine, I don’t want to remind them what they go through (…) skateboarding is great because when you practice it you are absolutely disconnected from everything […] They know what’s going on there as they read the news and talk with their families. They maybe look physically young but the crisis forced them to become more mature in less than two months […]

Now they really start enjoying skateboarding and want to improve their skills. I teach them new moves and tricks. Some already want to ride the streets of Hanover. So I gave them free skateboards, which generously come from the German skateboarding community.”

In the Nordstadt district, Yurii accompanies the young refugees to the tram ’stop. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Close-up of Svyatoslav’s hands on a used skateboard. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022

Close-up of Svyatoslav’s hands on a used skateboard. Hanover, Germany - 27/04/2022