Over the past few years, the Ukraine has appeared regularly in the international news. From the political protests at Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) to the current conflict in the south-eastern region around Donetsk that’s been on the brink of war, it’s been getting a lot of press, for better or worse. After taking a trip there earlier in the year and spending time with many natives, particularly Anton 'Ozz' Shchutskyy, I really got to witness what the riders and this Eastern European country were all about. And I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
During my two-week stay, Anton educated me on the history of BMX there, and I got to chill and ride with a handful of the current crop of riders that make up the Kiev and Kharkiv riding scenes.
It turns out BMX there is about a decade younger than the country itself, which officially separated from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, that community began riding the streets and building DIY spots, since no skateparks existed until a few years ago.
A brotherhood formed between many of the members across the country, which involved travelling between cities and staying at each other’s houses. It’s been in a state of constant evolution, while still in its infancy, as Ozz elaborates: “Our scene hasn’t evolved yet like the rest of Europe; we have many things to learn from the U.S. There are some really good riders. The riding scene would definitely benefit from more contests and more riders from other countries coming here to visit.”
Yet despite the lack of time it would take for a community to develop longstanding wisdom, these guys get it. Even with the average income in Ukraine negatively affected by the conflict, making it difficult to afford new parts, nothing is stopping them from riding.
While cruising around Kiev and Kharkiv, their dedication to and appreciation of BMX was very apparent. Jokes still fly, and a look of contentment is written across everyone’s faces during and at the end of a good day of riding. The pool of talent gets deeper by the day. Take Alexander Rudenko, aka 'Shurva'. He made waves throughout the international BMX community this summer when a web video featuring a mix of tech lines and burly moves turned a lot of heads.
A web video featuring a mix of tech lines and burly moves turned a lot of heads.
After almost a decade of cruising around on the 20s, Ozz’s views on riding have been finely sculpted, and they're a good reflection of many of the other riders I was fortunate enough to chill with. He has a lot of good insight: “Everyone should ride for their own fun, not to ride for being sponsored. Hopefully the riders here understand that BMX is more of an art than a sport.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Working at Big Toys bike shop in Kiev has also shaped his outlook: “There are two types of jobs I’ve seen – one, you don’t like but get paid a lot. Another, where you enjoy your job and may not get paid as much. That’s the main thing for me and why I love working at a bike shop.”
And while in other parts of the world it’s not uncommon to see riders pushing themselves well into their 30s and 40s, it’s still quite an anomaly where Ozz lives. But he’s working on changing that perspective. “I love riding most of all,” he says.
“There are plenty of guys within the Ukraine and beyond motivating me to ride. I still see someone like Joe 'Butcher' Kowalski still riding well in his mid 30s; I’m 27 and not too old to ride.”
Ukraine might have its share of problems on the political front, but the lack of a thriving BMX community is not one of them. No matter what might be going on in the world, or even in one’s own country, bike riding continues onward, even in the least expected places, like Ukraine.