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.

Using Format