A War Outside Your Window

Nike Inc. at last grants Ishod Wait a pro shoe, VF Corp.’s Vans same with Lizzie Armanto, Kader Sylla provides more of his pinnacle flick and laughs off Bill Strobeck’s filming foibles, but there’s no comfort. Too much fear and darkness, a planet casting for its footing grabbed and wrenched backward into what seems like a harsher and more brutal age, somewhere that seemed relegated to stale movie plots and militarized video game series. In an age that seemed sometimes to drown itself in shades of blurry and bleeding grays, the rapid reveal of a deep jet-black streak is a cold reminder of an old order that hasn’t gone away.

A year ago spring neared and a path out of a strange, lost year seemed close. Optimistic vibes emanated from Kyle Wilson’s fuzzy-hooded switch backside tailslide, and these mostly held through the variants and waves that obscured and fatigued the winding way back. The most bracing vid for this unsteady new year, though, comes out of embattled Kyiv, ‘Revolutions on Granite,’ a deeply felt documentary on the Ukrainian skate scene via Brendan Gilliam and Peter Dayton Conopask, which screened disorientingly prescient when Thrasher posted it this week.

The vid opens with talk of stone blocks embedded with hunger, blood and tears, and after the past few weeks of neighborhood bombardments, destroyed homes and fleeing families, certain phrases from the interviews seem to hang in the air an extra second or so: “We fought for our territory,” “on the world scene, we were no one,” “we always have troubles with our neighbor.” Some of this relates to the nascent Ukrainian skate scene, as isolated a backwater as there was amid skating’s worldwide nadir in the early 1990s. But the documentary’s power lies in the way it threads together the building — literally in some cases — of a scene centered on Kyiv’s Maidan plaza with the newly freed country’s furtive path out of the Soviet era and toward a freer state of being.

It’s easy for a western-world skater to see his or herself in the beanies, bleached hair and baggy denim that follows as the Kyiv skaters push the potential of their granite playground, and visiting pros like Fred Gall and (of course) Kenny Reed briefly suggest a future for the city as a vibrant satellite of the burgeoning Europe sphere — until 2014, when the plaza devolves into a literal battleground as pro-democracy protesters clash with corruption-tinged figures hailing from the country’s Russia-aligned east. The plaza falls into disrepair, stone tiles broken with hammers to make projectiles for throwing, the memories of dead bodies strewn across the blocks too heavy for at least some of the locals to think of it as anything beyond hallowed ground.

There is a line late in the vid — “Whenever it feels like finally it’s starting, we’re gonna live great lives… there’s always something that gets in the way” — that now can be heard freighted with the awful calm of a hurricane’s eye, or reading yet again a throwaway text exchange with a friend just before they suddenly were gone. You hear the way some of these people talk and feel fairly certain that they are today themselves in a very real fight that perhaps the rest of the world thought was a thing of the past, but they very clearly knew as a present threat. The open question is whether the documentary will prove to be an epitaph or a prequel, and it’s hard not to now come away with the feeling that question weighed on the minds of those who made it.

Thrasher posted a link to donate to Ukrainian refugees; it would be something if gift certificates were available to purchase from Ukrainian skate shops/parks/companies similar to how people have booked Airbnbs to funnel funds to displaced and besieged locals.

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