Inside the Ukrainian ski resort that’s stayed open to help people ‘forget about the war’

Inside the Ukrainian ski resort that’s stayed open to help people ‘forget about the war’

Far from the frontlines, colourful signs and a skier mascot welcome drivers to the mountain resort of Bukovel.

It is Ukraine’s largest ski centre and it has resisted the conflict by remaining open.

For visitors, skiing here is a way to find normality and respite from the devastating war.

But despite the optimism, the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are visible here too.

Bukovel: The Ukraine ski resort that’s refused to close

Bukovel lies in the west of the country, encircled by the thick pine forests of the Carpathian Mountains.

As the largest ski resort in the country, it offers 75 kilometres of pistes and 17 lifts.

Now warmer weather has arrived, the melting slopes are replenished daily using snow cannons run on generators.

Under a bright sun, the ski lift whirs and the shouts and laughter of skiers echo across the slopes.

‘Here we try to forget about the war’

One first-time visitor is Liliya, an English interpreter from Ukraine’s Sumy region only 20 kilometres from the Russian border.

She booked the ski holiday for herself, her husband and her eight-year-old daughter as a way to “forget about the war.”

Even so, “my mobile phone alerts me three or four times a day about sirens back home,” she says.

The resort has managed to remain open despite the dearth of foreign visitors and supplies.lelik-solnce_10

At the beginning of the conflict, Liliya fled to Germany. But she returned three months later to be closer to her soldier husband.

“We came here in late winter, because he could only get time off now,” she adds.

A very different vibe at Ukraine’s last bastion ski resort

Despite the snow-dusted chalets and mountain bars blasting pop music, the “vibe is very different,” according to ski instructor Bogdan Nakonechniy.

The 26-year-old has worked at Bukovel for three seasons and has seen plenty of changes this year.

“Less people have come this year but those that do are more emotional due to the war, they seem to appreciate it more,” Nakonechniy says.

Only one in every four or five ski lift chairs is occupied and construction work has halted on many hotel developments in the area.

Most of the skiers are women and children – or men exempt from military duty.

Sometimes, there are more blatant reminders of war. “The sirens sound here too sometimes, but people ignore them and the ski lifts don’t stop working,” says Taras Humenyuk, a worker at a ski wear store.

Bukovel: Feeling the lack of foreign tourists

The resort has managed to remain open despite the dearth of foreign visitors and supplies.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our customers are Ukrainian now. Before, 30 per cent were foreign,” Humenyuk says.

Shortly after the conflict began, a Russian missile strike near the ski wear store’s warehouse outside Kyiv destroyed most of the shop’s stock of ski gear, jackets, boots and thick socks.

“We still struggle with supplies, foreign brands don’t send new equipment as they fear we cannot pay,” Humenyuk says.

Inside the mostly empty restaurant of Baza Smart Hotel, manager Natalia Havrylenko estimates that the resort’s tourist trade has fallen 90 per cent since the invasion.

After Russia targeted critical infrastructure across Ukraine last year, she converted the hotel lobby into a co-working space with an internet connection for small businesses.

“When Ukraine wins, we trust that the tourism business will flourish again,” she says.


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