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'We cannot put our lives on pause': Ukrainians find normalcy and fun at a ski resort

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Many Ukrainians live a dual existence. Their country's at war, but there are moments of normalcy - of fun and joy. One of the ways some families in Kyiv had found respite is a small ski resort right in the city. NPR's Elissa Nadworny visited for some night skiing and sent this report.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: There's a snowstorm happening in Kyiv right now. The powder is falling thick and fast. About a foot is landing. It's been at least a day since the last air raid siren and missile attack. Seems like a perfect time to go skiing. This amazing snow is what brought Ivan Kovaliov out.

IVAN KOVALIOV: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: "I'm here to ski," the 9-year-old says with a grin.

He's on the ski team here at Protasiv Yar, where the Ukrainian national team has trained.

IVAN: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: Today, he skied with one ski, he tells us, and practiced jumps.

His mom, Kateryna Ponomarenko, is out at the base of the main slope. The floodlights are on - there's night skiing until 9 p.m. - illuminating the 100 or so skiers and snowboarders making their way down.

KATERYNA PONOMARENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "I'm so happy for everyone here trying to live," says Kateryna.

PONOMARENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "Ukrainians have all experienced so much stress and fear," she says.

PONOMARENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "Pulling yourself out of the house," she says, helps her and her son stay out of a depression.

At the small resort, you can take lessons, rent skis or snowboards. It's the second season since the war began. And there's a cafe with food and hot cocoa and powerful backup generators if the power goes out, the potential for a Russian missile attack always present.

In front of one of the machines making snow, Roman Kobylinsky is starting a lesson...

ROMAN KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: ...With twin 6-year-olds, Kira and Dima.

(SOUNDBITE OF SKI BOOTS BEING SNAPPED INTO SKIS)

KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: Roman leads them in a warm-up.

KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: Only one rope lift is operating when we visit. That's so it's easier to evacuate if there's an aerial attack. Roman guides the twins over to it.

KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: They grab the rubber handles that will pull them up the hill.

KOBYLINSKY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "Well done," Roman says. "Hold on tight."

(CROSSTALK)

NADWORNY: Inside the lodge, benches are packed with people warming up. Nazar Motzah, who is 8, has just finished a lesson. His cheeks are flushed.

NAZAR MOTZAH: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "I liked it," he says, a huge smile on his face. His mom, Marta, is beaming.

MARTA: His first experience.

NADWORNY: First day today?

MARTA: Yes (laughter).

NADWORNY: What did it feel like?

NAZAR: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "Initially, I was afraid," he says.

NAZAR: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "But then I studied the slope."

NAZAR: Whoo (ph).

NADWORNY: He motions with his hands, showing the angles. Marta and her husband got him this lesson as a holiday present.

MARTA: We are waiting for victory, but we can't put our life on the stop.

(Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "Are you tired?" - his mom asks.

NAZAR: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: "It seems that I don't feel fatigued because I have a boost of joy," he says.

MARTA: (Laughter).

NADWORNY: And that boost of joy...

MARTA: (Laughter).

NADWORNY: ...I think we could all be interested in that.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, at a ski resort in Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF L.A.B. SONG, "TAKE IT AWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elissa Nadworny
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.