Mountain biking continues to spread like water across the world, settling into former footpaths and energizing rural communities throughout its burgeoning diaspora. For several years the team at Ukraine Gravity has been working to popularize and expand the sport in Europe’s second-largest country. The crew of three builds and maintains trails in their homeland and abroad, and they have made a handful of impressive videos to showcase their handiwork.
Each of these trail building shredders digs and rides regularly, and they all have unique media skills to help illustrate the story. Vatamanyuk Orest manages trail projects and creates a variety of content while Staloverov Alexander shoots video and Oleksii Marusyk takes point on the photography front.
With experience building at their local Bukovel Bike Park, these young creatives set off to clean tracks in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, for their first foray as a hired trail crew three years ago. They have since worked on trails in other locations across Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia, preparing the dirt for the IXS European Cup and EWS rounds in those locations.
In 2018 the trio crossed paths with Fanie Kok from Soil Searching, the trail advocacy and promotion arm of Specialized Bicycles. Ukraine Gravity was leading a trail building master class in Slovenia, showcasing some hand-digging tools that they had recently developed. The dig day was a smashing success, prompting Kok to offer support for the young Ukrainian team. Specialized provided the crew with S-Works Stumpjumpers and other forms of support for their first film called Black Soil that showcased the trails they had been working on. That supportive relationship has continued, and for 2021 they will be filming Black Soil II with a guest athlete from Specialized riding the Carpathian tracks that line their backyard.
For anyone planning a trip to eastern Europe once this pandemic passes, Orest says that Ukraine needs to be on the ride itinerary. “We have a lot of trails, but my favorite is the trail from Mount Petros, at 2020m. It’s just incredible. Every mountain biker in Ukraine should try the so-called “big ring” — descents from the five best peaks in the Ukrainian Carpathians, [starting with] Hoverla at 2061m [which is] the highest mountain in Ukraine. [Then the] descent from the mountain Velykyi Verkh to the Shipit waterfall, the Svydovets (trail from Velykyi Kotel), descent from the mountain Homiak to the Huk waterfall, and the Makovytsia Dovbush Trail descent.”
Big alpine descents like those could pack a full week of trail fun, and Orest mentioned that the local hospitality is also top-notch. “Ukraine is famous for its hospitality. Travelers are always welcomed in any part of Ukraine. I cannot but mention our cuisine which is one of the most delicious in Europe, so trust me, you will definitely not be hungry. The beauty of Ukrainian nature is impressive but, unfortunately, tourism is not very developed so you might have the opportunity to become the discoverer of new lands.” With the promise of great dirt and food, we will definitely be visiting Ukraine in the near future.
While the sport continues to grow year by year in Ukraine, federal funding sources are as limited as they are anywhere else at the beginning. “Unfortunately, our government does not support us in any way, but to be honest it makes us show better results even without their support. We mainly work with foreign and Ukrainian private companies. The topic of recreation, sports, and travel is always interesting for any kind of business and we are trying to widely develop it.” Hopefully as more locals take to the trails the government’s tourism branch will gain interest.
Given their impressive video skills we assumed that at least one of the Ukraine Gravity members had studied visual media, and they have… in the field.
“Many famous directors say that the best learning comes when you just take your camera and shoot,” says Orest. “That’s basically what we do. We learn from our mistakes, analyze, and improve. Our viewers noticed that our videos are getting better and better. Over the past year, we have managed the collaboration with such well-known brands as Volvo, Land Rover, Suzuki, Socar, Lenovo, Porsche and others. In almost every advertising integration we add a part of Gravity. This is our style of working. We present brands through the field of recreation and sports.”
When we asked about the most trying element of film making, the response was exactly what we expected. “Probably the most time consuming and difficult part of creating the film is post-production. It’s a time when all the work with shooting is already done, but it’s still so far to the finish line. Then comes the time for editing and trust me that’s not the sweetest moment.” The crew has been well rewarded for their media efforts. “When we presented our first MTB film, Black Soil, and went on tour in Ukraine it was so nice to observe the satisfied viewers who watched our tape with admiration. For us it was so valuable to see someone share our values. It inspired us more and made us move further with our projects.”
We hope to make the trip east for a nice week of riding with the Ukraine Gravity crew, followed by a full report of the trails and hospitality. Until then, we’ll be sure to share their latest videos as they become available.