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Between bombings, Ukrainians find fun (and a sense of normalcy) at a Kyiv ski resort

Ukrainians hit the slopes at a ski resort in Kyiv. Skiing and snowboarding offer locals a bit of joy, despite frequent missile attacks.
Claire Harbage
/
NPR
Ukrainians hit the slopes at a ski resort in Kyiv. Skiing and snowboarding offer locals a bit of joy, despite frequent missile attacks.

KYIV, Ukraine — It's a January evening and the snow is coming down thick and fast — several inches have landed and stuck. Even so, the snow machines are cranking at Protasiv Yar, a small ski and snowboarding resort near the center of Kyiv.

Night skiing goes until 9 p.m. and the floodlit slopes are packed. It's been at least a day since the last air raid siren and missile attack on the capital, although since late December, there have been several large-scale attacks in Kyiv and across Ukraine.

Ivan Kovaliov, 9, and his mother, Kateryna Ponomarenko, pose for a photo at the bottom of the ski slope.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Ivan Kovaliov, 9, and his mother, Kateryna Ponomarenko, pose for a photo at the bottom of the ski slope.

But today's lull, and the lovely powder, brought Ivan Kovaliov, 9, out to ski. He skis over to where his mom, Kateryna Ponomarenko, is watching at the base of the main slope and takes off his goggles. He's got a big grin on his face and announces he's been working on a new skill: going down on one ski. He's on the ski team here, which has thinned dramatically since the war started nearly two years ago, and he's been practicing jumps.

He doesn't linger, and soon he's back in line to catch the lift back up the hill. There's only one lift open, making it easier to evacuate if there's shelling.

"I am so happy for everyone here who, like us, have experienced so much stress and fear and are just trying to live," says Ponomarenko, as she watches her son join the crowd. "Pulling ourselves out of the house to do anything helps with the depression."

Night skiing goes until 9 p.m. and the floodlit slopes are packed.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Night skiing goes until 9 p.m. and the floodlit slopes are packed.

She says many Ukrainians live a dual existence: Their country is at war, and their lives are often in danger, but there are also many moments of normalcy, fun and joy. This small resort — for years a popular winter destination — is a part of that respite. The Ukrainian Olympic team has used these slopes for training.

This is Protasiv Yar's second wartime ski season. There are ski and snowboard rentals and lessons for adults and children. Behind the main lift, there's a café with food and hot cocoa. There's also a nearby shelter, the threat of a Russian missile attack never far from anyone's mind, and powerful backup generators if the power goes out.

Twins Dmytro and Kira Hlynka, age 6,<strong data-stringify-type="bold"> </strong>get a ski lesson from instructor Roman Kobylinsky.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
Twins Dmytro and Kira Hlynka, age 6, get a ski lesson from instructor Roman Kobylinsky.

In front of one of the machines making snow, ski instructor Roman Kobylinsky is beginning a lesson with 6-year-old twins Dmytro and Kira Hlynka. They click into their little skis and begin a warmup.

"Move your head left, now right," Kobylinsky instructs. "Put your hands on your waist. Now stretch to one side, now the other."

After the warmup, he guides the twins over to the lift. "Are you ready?" Kobylinsky asks, as the lift inches closer. "Kira ... move up!"

Just in time, Kira grabs the rubber handle that will pull her up the hill — and she's off. Her brother, who goes by Dima, grabs the next one.

This small resort — for years a popular winter destination — is now in its second wartime ski season.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
This small resort — for years a popular winter destination — is now in its second wartime ski season.

"Dima, well done! Hold on tight," Kobylinsky says, as he prepares to grab on himself and follow them up.

Inside the rental center, the benches are packed with people warming up. Nazar Motsia, 8, is struggling to take off his boots. It was his first time on skis today, and he has just finished his lesson. "It was really good," he says, with his cheeks flushed and a huge smile across his face.

"Initially, I was afraid the first few times I went down, but then I studied the slope and — whoosh," he motions with his hand to show the angles he's learned to ski.

His mom, Marta Kopen, is standing next to him, beaming. She and her husband got him this lesson as a holiday present, part of their strategy to let their children experience as many fun activities as possible, despite the war.

Nazar Motsia, 8, sits with his father, Maksym Motsia, who helps his son out of his gear after his first time skiing.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Nazar Motsia, 8, sits with his father, Maksym Motsia, who helps his son out of his gear after his first time skiing.

"We live in Ukraine because we like our country, and we want all the best for our children," she says. "We are looking forward to victory, but we cannot put our lives on stop."

"Are you tired?" Kopen asks her son.

"No," he replies. "It seems that I don't feel fatigued because I have a boost of joy."

Hanna Palamarenko and Kateryna Malofieieva contributed reporting.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elissa Nadworny
Elissa Nadworny is an NPR Correspondent, covering higher education.
Claire Harbage