On the Ukrainian front, a Roman skateboarder who became the “king of the streets” of Kramatorsk.

Kovalenko, 18, of Rome, will skate on May 5, 2022 at the Peace Square in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.
18-year-old Roman Kovalenko spins on a Peace Square skateboard in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on May 5, 2022 (CHIBA Yasuyoshi / AFP).

Under a siren howl, a teenager with a still childish face spins on a skateboard, passes in front of a bombed hamburger stand, and then in Kramatorsk in the heart of Ukrainian-controlled Donbus. You will arrive at Peace Square.

18-year-old Roman Kovalenko tried several flips in this huge square in a completely deserted city center, but failed.

On this beautiful May night, I witnessed a large white steam traversing over him and rockets flying around the city. The five had already landed in Kramatorsk before dawn. The floor and walls shook, the windows in the rows of buildings (which had been abandoned for a long time) shattered, and the apartment turned upside down.

However, the Romans slid down the asphalt with a mixture of invincibility and distrust.

“It’s sad on the one hand, but it’s a very special atmosphere on the other,” he says.

Standing on his board in sneakers and a white baseball cap, Roman looks like a normal teenager who appears to have parachuted down in the midst of the war.

On May 5, 2022, a man threw debris out of a window while cleaning a room in a building destroyed by a missile in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.
On May 5, 2022, a man cleaning a room in a building destroyed by a missile in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, threw debris out of a window (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP).

“I feel a little depressed because there is no one there,” he says. “But when I walk alone in front of the curfew, I feel like the king of the street.”

“There is nothing else to do”

The population of Kramatorsk was 300,000 before 2014, when the Donbas conflict began between Moscow-backed pro-Russian separatists and Kieu authorities. When Donetsk, the capital of the region, fell into the hands of separatists, the Ukrainians moved their administrative center to Kramatorsk, 100 kilometers north.

Kramatorsk, an industrial city of the Soviet era, is lined with factories and warehouses, along the railway line and the river that crosses it from north to south. These facilities are perfect targets for Russian troops, further approaching the Kramatorsk Valley from the northern hills.

Roman Kovalenko, 18, on a skateboard near a store destroyed by a missile in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, May 5, 2022.
Roman Kovalenko (18 years old) (Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP) on a skateboard near a store destroyed by a missile in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, May 5, 2022.

Weeks of trench warfare with increasingly powerful weapons brought Russian and pro-Russian troops within Kramatorsk’s range of fire.

Ukrainians usually retaliate with artillery in the morning. After that, they try to move their weapons in the daytime, hoping that the Russians will not have a clear target in the evening when they launch long-range missiles.

While skateboarding across the city, the Romans witness the damage this warrior’s routine has done to his city.

“I have nothing else to do,” he shrugged. “All my friends have left for the rest of Ukraine. I’m bored.”

-“Accept fate”

Before the war, Place De Lape was a meeting place for skateboarders and teenagers looking for a cheap outing.

As the sun sets and the surrounding administration buildings turn orange, the place suddenly gains an unusual charm. Most passers-by today are strong men armed with assault rifles and look tired and gray.

Giant Ukrainian flag on the half-mast of Kramatorsk on May 5, 2022
Giant Ukrainian flag (CHIBA Yasuyoshi / AFP) on the half-mast of Kramatorsk, May 5, 2022

The Romans have a hard time explaining why he didn’t leave. “Of course I want to find friends and go out, but I can’t do that now,” he says.

He briefly describes financial difficulties before adding that he lives alone with his mother and that others have far more serious problems than he does.

“The time I’m afraid hasn’t come yet,” he said. “I’m deadly. I accept my destiny.”

The warning siren will sound again from the speaker installed directly above him. He isn’t moving.

“When the siren sounds, 80% of the time nothing happens,” he says.

He easily recognizes that something is very likely to happen to him, even if it is only 20% of the cases. “I understand it’s a war, but it’s not perfect.”