Few words about yourself and tell how/why are you in Ukraine?
When I’m not organising 5km runs, I manage a small software company called Veedoo Ltd. I’m Chairman of a small NGO that tries to promote the use of intelligent transport systems in Ukraine, and I write and travel as much as possible – mostly in central and Eastern Europe.
I first came to Ukraine as a young graduate in 2005 because I was on a mission to visit all 49 European countries. It was just after the Orange revolution and to be honest I didn’t like Kyiv or Lviv. They both felt like big, grey post-Soviet cities and finding a place to stay was difficult because there was only one hostel in each city and in Lviv they locked the door at 22:00.
I returned in 2009 to study the impact of the EU visa policy in Ukraine and after three months in Kyiv I was completely in love with this city and since then we have had a long and happy relationship 🙂
When Maidan started in late 2013 I returned and after the government changed in 2014 I moved a lot of my work here – partially as an act of solidarity but mostly so I can spend more time here.
How the idea of the runday was born?
The idea isn’t mine, I borrowed it from a movement called parkrun in the UK. They started to organise free 5km races in the UK in 2004 and now have weekly runs across the world.
I remembered the idea during a free training session on Hydropark before the Kyiv Half-Marathon and suggested we try to implement something like parkrun here in Ukraine. My friend Oleksandr Ruzhytskyi agreed and I wrote to parkrun to see if they would support us. They said no, so we decided to do it ourselves and try to adapt the concept specifically for Ukraine. Runday is the result of that process and a lot of hard word and dedication from a small team of runday organisers based in a secret bunker in Podil.
I think runday is a great concept and because it’s free and because it always takes place at the same time and in the same place, it’s really accessible. You just need to register once and you can run in any race.
What do you expect from the project/ Why are you doing it?
It’s a good question. Mostly I do it because I enjoy it and because I like a challenge but I also think there’s a lot of room for free, community-based entertainment in Ukraine. 18 months ago a small group of my friends and colleagues helped me launch a series of open microphone (open mic) events in Kyiv where people can turn-up and sing, dance and entertain people for free. Nothing like that existed at the time and many of my Ukrainian friends were skeptical that it would work, but it did. The events continue every Thursday and hundreds of talented Ukrainians and foreigners have enjoyed the free stage and free music they provide.
This gave me the confidence to try somthing new and perhaps more ambitious and if runday can grow into an international movement like parkrun I would be delighted, but right now we’re focusing on Ukraine and trying to build a national community of runners and volunteers. Our second location will be Lviv and this will be followed by Kharkiv and Odessa.
There are a few challenges for runday which are specific to Ukraine. The first is the crazy weather you have with +35 degree summers and -20 degree winters. We’re not sure how the winter races are going to work-out yet, but many runners are convinced that the cold/snow/ice are not a problem. Another problem is the infrastructure and financing. It’s a challenge to find a good 5km course that is safe and free to use and we also need to keep costs to an absolute minimum. But, the biggest obstacle we face now is probably the culture of volunteering, or more-accurately the lack of volunteers.
Even in the UK where volunteering is common, managing and encouraging volunteers is a time consuming process but here in Ukraine I think we’re going to have to work extra hard to convince people to give up their Saturday mornings to help organise free community events.
However, I’m optimistic. So much is changing in Ukraine and so quickly that anything is possible. I’m confident that, with a little bit of persuasion, we can do it and together we will develop a large and committed community of runners and activists.
In the UK an 81 year-old runner recently collected an award for completing his 500th parkrun run. The guy joined parkrun when he was 70 and says he will continue to run whenever he can. This kind of thing really inspires us. If we can see this kind of story written about runday in Ukraine in 10 years time, then our mission will have been a success.
What would you say to anyone who is thinking of joining runday or attending some of your runs?
Firstly, don’t be intimidated by the course or the idea of running. We welcome everyone and we will provide any help, guidance and support you need to enjoy our events. Secondly, check the info that’s available online on www.runday.org. It’s all available in English and Ukrainian and there’s lots of useful stuff there. You can also contact us with any questions. Finally, I encourage everyone to grab turn-up and try. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and it’s a great healthy start to your weekend.