Wheels of Hope

When you are  standing on a skateboard, you have to concentrate incredibly: find your  balance, keep your body tension: skateboarding leaves no space for brooding.  Thoughts of an unhappy love, or the war in your country, disappear for just a  moment. That gave 25-year-old  Ukrainian professional skater Yurii Korotun the idea of ​​teaching skateboarding  to young refugees. So that after weeks in exile and staying in the hall,  they can get physically and mentally active again and, above all, so that they  can escape from reality 5 hours per day, twice a week at Gleis D Skatehalle of  Hanover, Germany since April 6.

Almost seven months after the beginning of the conflict, 1 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.

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.

Accompanied by 25-year-old Ukrainian professional skateboarder Yurii Korotun (Left), young Ukrainian refugees leave in the morning the Hall 27 of Messegelände in the outskirt of Hanover. 

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. 

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.

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.

Yurii helps Karina, 14, 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. 

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

Yurii teaches beginners how to stand on a skateboard and maintain balance. Most of these kids never practiced skateboarding before. The free classes started with less than 7 children. Since, the classes became popular. The capacity is now limited to 25 kids and teenagers.

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 quickly succeeds in this risky move. 

Whereas 9-year-old Antoni rides easily the mini half pipe, volunteer Valle explains to Erika how to place her feet on a skateboard before "dropping".

Gleis D Skatehalle chairman Tim Löbel, 29 distributes prepared lunches to the Ukrainians before joining the dining room on the indoor terrace. The meals are funded by donations from an online campaign.

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. 

While a German train ICE passes-by the Gleis D Skatehalle, 12-year-old Abdullah stares at Yurii Korotun performing a trick on an outdoor mini half pipe.

Erika, 12, Dnipro

Antoni, 9, Kyiv

Karina, 14, Odessa

Vadim, 12,  Zhytomyr Oblast

Karina, 14, Dnipro

Arthur, 15, Kyiv 

Dyma, 15, Kharkiv

Daniel, 17, Odessa 

While Makar, 11 struggles for balance, Yurii performs an "Ollie" and lifts his board off the ground under the curious eyes of Karina, Abdullah and Svyatoslav.

Yurii adjusts the truck’s flexibility of Karina’s skateboard.

As the 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. Erika, followed by Karina, pushes and rides towards a quarter half pipe. 

13-year-old Vanya from Zhytomyr Oblast rolls down a pyramid-like wooden ramp while Abdullah approaches it.  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. 

In the Nordstadt district, Yurii accompanies the young refugees to the tram ’stop. 

Close-up of Svyatoslav’s hands on a used skateboard.

On the way back to Messe refugee camp, while Arthur looks out the tramway window, Erika rests on Karina’s shoulder while watching her mobile phone.

Wheels of Hope: The Cargo Mission

The Russo-Ukrainian war has forced millions of citizens to flee their homes. If they have not taken the roads of exile into the European Union or to Russia, many displaced people have found refuge in Lviv, Ukraine. Despite some bombings, the city, located in the western part of the country and 70 kilometers away from the Polish border, has become an essential and safe hub for the refugees who wish to settle temporarily. Nicknamed "capital of the west", Lviv, which had a population of about 700,000 inhabitants before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has seen its population increase by 30 percent since February 24, 2022. As a result, the war has turned the city into a humanitarian crossroads, where food and goods arrive from all over the country as well as from abroad. These are then shipped on a daily basis to the most heavily impacted cities by the Russian offensives.

During wartime, sports activities are both a breath of fresh air and a creative outlet. Skateboarding and BMX are no exception for Ukrainians in general, and amongst them, Lviv inhabitants. However, these urban cultures without borders suffer from total supply disruptions due to the difficulty of transporting equipment from Western countries, and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia. Thus, both local and refugee skateboarders and BMX riders can hardly forget, for a while, the dramatic conflict by focusing on their respective passion. Their shared misfortune united the usually separated communities of skateboarders and BMX riders, and the European and international community mobilize their strengths to help them.

As a symbol of solidarity and community spirit of these urban cultures, volunteers from the Gleis D Skatehalle in Hanover, Germany accompanied by Gabriel Goldsack, the founder of the NGO Share a Bike Share a Smile, organized a humanitarian convoy to Lviv at the end of August 2022 in a very short time. Concerned about the refugees’ wellbeing who are victims of a conflict which has lasted for more than a year now, Gleis D members together with Ukrainian professional skateboarder Yurii Korotun have already initiated skateboarding courses for young Ukrainian refugees in Hanover since April 2022.

Several piles of skateboards tied up with duct tape near the Treptow-Köpenick district in southeast of Berlin.
Berlin, Germany - 08/08/2022

At Mellowpark, the largest outdoor extreme sports park in Europe located in Berlin, BMX and new tires are ready to be loaded in a converted van.
Berlin, Germany - 08/08/2022

The volunteers, helped by 24-year-old Ukrainian refugee Ruslan (left), are loading new and used skateboards donated by Hanover locals, German skateboarders and skateshops, as well as BMXs and spare parts into the van. A total of 74 skateboards, 6 pairs of skate wheels, 10 sets of bearings, 7 pairs of shoes, 9 complete BMX, several trucks (axles) and countless spare parts such as, among others, 2 BMX pro frames, 4 handle bars, 6 tires, 6 pairs of pedals, 1 fork will be distributed in Lviv, Ukraine. Berlin, Germany - 08/08/2022

Driver change on the way to Katowice. 250 km left. Simon will drive at night to a chosen bivouac near the city of Kraków. Poland - 08/08/2022

Evening meal break on a rest area off a Polish highway. After driving through the city of Wrocław, Tim, Simon, and Gabriel relax at sunset before hitting the road again.
Poland - 08/08/2022

On the parking lot of the Polish rest area, before hitting road, Tim, Simon, and Gabriel discuss the time of arrival in Ukraine the next day, and the possible unexpected issues related to the crossing of the Ukrainian border. Poland - 08/08/2022

View from the van crossing at dusk a Polish landscape in the Lesser Poland region (Małopolska) Poland - 08/08/2022

After having been put in contact with two Ukrainian skateboarding associations SkateUkraine and Lviv Skateboarding as well as BMX store Bike Stuff, the participants of the inventive project Cargo Mission transported 74 skateboards, 9 BMX and many spare parts with destination Lviv and even further, meant for local and refugee riders alike.

In the van parked by the gas station, Tim and Gabriel use their mobile phones and tablet to locate an exact place to do wild camping far from the houses before hitting the road the next morning. Kobylice, Poland - 08/08/2022

"We don’t know how long is gonna to take at the Ukrainian border [...] I hope they gonna let us in."

wonders Simon After a short and cold night by a reservoir lake in the Silesian region (śląskie), Tim is repacking his sleeping bag and Gabriel drinks a coffee. Simon, lying on a yoga mat, is thinking of the Ukrainian border and the expected soldier’s control. Dziećkowice lake, Poland - 09/08/2022

At the last rest area before entering Ukraine, many humanitarian waiting trucks from the United Nations World Food Program are parked before reaching the border crossing of Korczowa-Krakowiec. The Cargo Mission team is anxious. This is first time that these volunteers go to Ukraine, and they’ve never been to a country at war. Korczowa, Poland - 09/08/2022

Two kilometers away from the Korczowa-Krakowiec border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, the A4 highway is deserted. During the first months of the conflict, countless refugees in exile fled the country by reaching the Polish roads. Apart from the humanitarian convoys and the Ukrainians wishing to return to their country, traffic is near non-existent.
Poland - 09/08/2022 

Despite the apprehension of experiencing a country at war and the incurred risks, the volunteers made a 2,000-kilometer journey from Berlin, Germany, via Poland to Lviv by van, spanning a period of 4 days. This surge of solidarity allowed the distribution, in Lviv and in cities affected by the Russian offensives, of equipment necessary to the youth in search of freedom of expression to foresee a peaceful future.

People walk on a pedestrian crosswalk in downtown Lviv, Ukraine. Since the Russian army invaded the country on February 20, 2022, countless citizens have fled their respective cities under the massive bombings by the Russian army. Despite some air raids, Lviv, located in the west of the country and 70 km away from the Polish border, has become a shelter and a crossroad for refugees to settle temporarily or to leave Ukraine.  Since the beginning of the conflict, the 700,000 inhabitants’city has become the “new capital”. Its population has increased by 30%. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

While Tim, Gabriel and Mykhailo are driving to the street spot where the distribution will take place, Vitalii guides Simon around Lviv. They cross the Ivan Franko park where many bomb shelters have been installed since the beginning of the Russian invasion. This park hides a wide network of old brick tunnels built almost 150 years ago, which allows the inhabitants to shelter when the sirens of the Russian air-raids start to sound in town.
Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Around 10.30 am, local skateboarders come to gather on the square of Stepan Bandera’s monument to meet the Cargo Mission’s volunteers, as well as the representatives of Lviv Skateboarding and SkateUkraine. This square is famous in the whole country as it is the best marble place to practice skateboarding in Lviv.

According to Vitalii, more than a hundred skateboarders ride the city’streets. The number has increased since the beginning of the war, as skateboarders from Kiyv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Donetsk, Izyum and other areas have fled their respective homes to find shelter in Lviv. Only 10% of local skateboarders left the country, the majority of them were underage.

Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Nearby the Stepan Bandera’s monument square, Gabriel, Tim, and Simon unload all the skateboards that were stored in the van. Despite the exhaustion of the journey, it is a successful outcome for the volunteers who organized this humanitarian convoy in less than 10 days.

Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022 

Vitalii (right) is offering decks to local skateboarders. 19-year-old Ruslan checks if the shape, the grip tape and the size are good for him. Vitalii created the association Lviv Skateboarding in June 2022 to support the local community during the war. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

George, 17 - Lviv

Maksim, 18 - Lviv

Orest, 17 - Lviv

Denis, 19 - Lviv

Gabriel unloads from his van one of the BMX transported to Lviv before handing them over to Taras, manager of the BMX store and employee Maksym Boiko. Through Share a Bike Share a Smile NGO, Gabriel got in touch with Yurii Korotun, and Gleis D Skatehalle, as he wanted to set up a humanitarian project with their support and their European connections. BMX rider, Gabriel, wanted to help the young Ukrainian. Following a meeting with two Ukrainian pro-BMX riders based in Barcelona, he was able to contact the store in Lviv to plan the adventure. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

In the Bike Stuff store Maksym, Taras, Gabriel from Share a Bike Share a Smile NGO and Simon (right) are pleased that the mission is accomplished. Simon, student and BMX enthusiast, is a Gleis D volunteer. He regularly participates in exchange programs, especially in countries in need. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Benefiting from the respite of a city less exposed to Russian bombs, and summer temperatures, Lviv’s citizens enjoy the tranquility of a pedestrian alley near the Opera House in the middle of the Freedom Avenue (Prospekt Svobody). In search of a semblance of “normality” many people gather to rest, play chess or cards. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Portrait of 32-year-old Mykhailo Tevkun, originally from Kyiv, he fled the capital to settle down in Lviv. He is the president of the association SkateUkraine.

Portrait of 32-year-old Simon Hehner, volunteer at Gleis D Skatehalle, student and RIDE social exchange project initiator. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Portrait of 32-year-old Gabriel Goldsack, originally from Mendoza in Argentina, he lives in Bremen, Germany. He is the founder of Share a Bike Share a Smile NGO. 

The Cargo Mission journey is almost over, the team succeeded in distributing all the equipment to the young riders, associations, and store of Lviv. Mykhailo and his girlfriend Stasia proposed to Tim, Gabriel, and Simon in a visit in the historical district of Lviv before hitting the road back to Germany. 

They stop in front of an exhibition of destroyed Russian tanks by the Ukrainian army. Organized by the government, this exhibition will be held in the city center until September. It will then be exhibited in several European capitals. The idea is to expose the Russian crimes committed on the Ukrainian territory to keep the attention of Western countries, while the conflict seems to get bogged down in the Donbass and could last for years. Lviv, 10/08/2022 - Ukraine

Street vendors sell balloons to children on a street near the Opera House in the historic center of Lviv. The city has not been the target of heavy shelling since the beginning of the conflict. Despite the apprehension of a probable Russian attack, citizens try to have an almost normal life. It dissipates completely at 11 pm, time of curfew until 5 am. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

Under the eyes of his friends and passersby, Lviv promising skateboarder Rotislav, 18, tries a trick by jumping off the Taras Shevchenko’s monument, which honors a famous Ukrainian poet. He attempts a risky "flip" to land on the alley near the Freedom Avenue (Prospekt Svobody).  

Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

20h30. Exhausted from the short but intense humanitarian trip, on the way back to Poland, the Cargo Mission is blocked at a surprise checkpoint held by the Ukrainian army. To wait, Simon smokes a cigarette. The wait will last until midnight, before reaching the border crossing of Hrushiv-Budomezh where the Polish customs will block Gabriel’s van until 2 am.

The crossing of the Ukrainian border to Poland is particularly tense. Indeed, the Ukrainian army is looking for deserters from 18 to 60 years old, breaking the established martial law. As for the Polish authorities, they carry out in-depth controls to search for stowaways and identify refugees seeking exile in the European Union. Lviv, Ukraine - 10/08/2022

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