Kiev’s workout paradise

July 4, 2013

Kiev, Ukraine

By Gleb Garanich

Let me introduce you to the famous open-air “Sweat Gym” composed of around 200 work-out machines assembled from scrap iron to train all muscles. It is laid out on an island in the Dnieper river off Kiev.

I am not a sports fan, only learning about this place by accident. I thought it could make an interesting story and so I went to take pictures of the “Sweat Gym”. I was so struck by the uncanny scene that unfolded in front of me, that for the first half an hour I slowly roamed and looked around as if examining rare exhibits in a museum. Unknown gear, machines, intricate contraptions, old chains, wheels and tires, parts of caterpillar tracks and simple chunks of rusty metal – with humans swarming amid it all.

Even after spending three days there, I still did not have a clear idea of how some of the work-out gear worked and what some others were for. Supported by enthusiasts, this “workout paradise” appeared in the 1970s when the Soviet Union existed and has survived through the hard times that followed its collapse. Indeed, what comes to mind when you look at all this is an old newsreel featuring the Soviet-era industrialization drive – all these giant pieces of equipment and details cast in rough iron and tiny humans, completing the picture as small screws. Here, there are both professional sportsmen and amateurs, youths and pensioners and parents with children.

The appearance of this fresh-air gym could be explained by a lack of workout facilities in Soviet days and the high fees charged by modern posh fitness halls which only a selected few can afford. But it seems to me that it is the atmosphere that makes this place special. This windswept area spanning 10,000 square meters (yards) on a Dnieper bank, where giant mechanisms clank and rattle, is so distant from the atmosphere of squeaky clean fitness halls with shiny mirrors. But this is also a genuine atmosphere of friendliness and kindness which is, alas, so atypical of today’s recession-battered Ukraine. After visiting this place, I am still unlikely to start jogging in the morning or stop having a beer or two in the evening but at least I promised my son I would join him for morning exercises.

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