Vitalii Krokhmaliuk

This man can easily knock you down with a powerful throw or a good joke.

Vitaliі Krokhmalіuk, an active volunteer with B50, trains children and adults in a fight club in his spare time and teaches them martial arts. He is also a very kind person and a lawyer who works with non-profit organizations.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Ihor Strembitskyi

Read the interview #B50heroes with Vitalii Krokhmaliuk:

  • why he prefers to pull heavy wheelbarrows and refuses to pick up a hammer when volunteering at B50;
  • why he chose legal assistance to charitable and non-governmental organizations as his profession;
  • how he came from a sports career to teaching MMA;
  • what his passion for ornithology means to him.
NameVitalii Krokhmaliuk
Citygrew up in the village of Shenderivka on the border with Moldova
Age39 years old, birthday – January 23
Professionlawyer-entrepreneur, engaged in registration of legal entities (mainly non-profit), active volunteer in B50
Hobbieswildlife, wrestling
Sea or mountains?it’s boring to be in the sun, so I would choose the mountains, but now it’s not time for rest
Childhood sportmartial arts (Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo)
Favorite foodeats whatever is given, because he does not know how to cook properly

Vitalik, where were you on February 24? How did you know that russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine had begun?

– In Kyiv, at 4 AM, my wife woke me up and told me to get ready, that I no longer had a job…

She had packed her 5-year-old son’s things in advance, a couple of days in advance, and we wanted to leave on Wednesday. But I had a training session the night before and had to go for work on Thursday. We also threw something in our backpacks and went to my parents’ place. It took us half a day to leave Kyiv. But I didn’t really see any alternatives. What to do with my wife and two children?

I didn’t believe that there would be a full-scale invasion because of my “short-sightedness”… In my information bubble, society is being humanized everywhere: vegetarians, animal rights activists, fighters against domestic violence, they don’t care about global conflicts. And I also said that we have been at war for a long time, since 2014. Where else could they go? Why do they need Kyiv? I misjudged… The empire wants to expand, to conquer new territories, it is economically profitable (apparently, the empire thought so). Perhaps they missed the mark somewhere. Perhaps somewhere, their propaganda said that they were waiting for us. But it turned out that they were not, and our propaganda managed to unite Ukraine. That’s why we united: those at the front and those in the rear.

As for the question of ending the war. We have a lot of Telegram channels, to which I am not subscribed, that reassure people that 2-3 weeks and that’s it. It will never end for us. So be prepared – not everyone will survive.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by volunteer Franko

– Why did you choose your parents’ direction for evacuation? As far as I understand, this is a village near Moldova and Transnistria, with a russian military presence there.

– Personally, I knew that Transnistria was a bubble. The residents themselves serve there, and it’s very hard for them to fight. It would be easier to show a passport and return to Moldova.

A lot of us came to the village – as many as 25 people. It’s good that we all fit in the house. I returned at the end of May.

– Do you remember when you found out about B50, and what motivated you to join volunteering?

– The first weekend of summer, when I saw on Facebook that the organization was looking for volunteers. Khrystyna from Democratic Axe (Ukrainian political party – ed.) wrote that B50 was looking for volunteers. It was the first thing I saw in my feed. Where it was available, I clicked on it.

Let’s be objective: apart from this type of volunteering, my hands are not capable of anything else. Pulling wheelbarrows is great! I’m not good at crafts, but I’m good at physical labor.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Nataliia Hryniuk

– I remember how you immediately gave me instructions: don’t give me a hammer, I’ll carry buckets, drive wheelbarrows, throw it on, throw it on properly. But you grew up in a village where a boy’s father usually teaches him to do something with his hands.

– Here is the situation: me and my brother, who is 6 years younger. Our grandfather is a carpenter, and he made everything related to windows, doors, and roofs for us and many neighbors. He wanted to give me a hammer, and then he said: “Go read books!”. I was given a scythe. I was very good at doing difficult things. Genetics is a complicated science. My father used to tell me: “Teaching a fool is only spoiling him.” My brother learned, but I didn’t.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Nataliia Hryniuk

You carry wheelbarrows and buckets. To some extent, this is similar to the wrestling you do. Do you ever get crepitus after trips to Moshchun?

– Of course, I do. I have problems with my back, I have a whole page of diagnoses. But if you are still alive, then you can.

Everyone has crepitus. Although I’ve been in sports for 20 years, I’m afraid to say. I used to wrestle, and I have medals and belts. Later, I stopped competing, but I still practiced. Then I had back injuries. I slowed down when my child was born (she needed a lot of time). I switched to coaching. This is another volunteer activity that has been with me for a long time.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Ihor Strembitskyi

– Is coaching children a volunteer job? I was convinced that you received some kind of fee. After all, I heard about your students’ victories in competitions, the level of the boys is quite serious…

– Well, we train more than just children. We do it for free. We have a gym, 2 main coaches, and we train for free, because times are hard (they have been hard for 10 years))). The guys chip in as much as they can to rent the gym. Usually it’s not enough) But this is a vivid example of how communism doesn’t work: if you don’t take money, it’s not very competitive.

And yet, we have 15 Master of Sports! Even now, we have 2 members of the national team who recently went to the World Cup training with us.

We have registered a fight club called Phoenix, and we apply for tournaments on its behalf. For many years, we have been among the top three in Kyiv in MMA (yes, this is what used to be called “fighting without rules”. But now there are quite clear rules. This sport has been recognized in Ukraine for a long time, and there is a federation). We also compete in pankration, grappling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and combat sambo. We are also in the top three there.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Svitlana Rudokvas

By the way, I helped the guys create this club as a lawyer. And then I said that I could wrestle a little. I came here, they tried it, and it turned out that I could wrestle quite well. Now I come here twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) to train and take them to competitions. I try to wrestle with the boys to keep myself in shape.

My area of responsibility is children aged 14 and older. In general, children are taken at the age of five. Yes, it is absolutely normal for them to fight, choke, and break. They roll over like kittens at the age of 5. The main thing is not to injure their mentality.

My part of training is wrestling in the ground, painful hold: how to take a dominant position to be comfortable on top, how to break or strangle. Since I was involved in wrestling (Brazilian jiu-jitsu and partly judo), I don’t know how to hit properly, but I can strangle and break perfectly.

Now, the nuances with training are that many guys have volunteered (to the Army – ed.). Some members of the national team did not return; they are in better place. So…

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Oleksandr Tishura

– When I see you volunteering, you’re so friendly and kind, but wrestling without rules is associated with some kind of cruelty and aggression. Something doesn’t add up…

– These are stereotypes about athletes, that they are either defensive or aggressive. Everyone has aggression. Someone leaves it in computer games, and someone leaves it on the tatami. And the tatami is the best place to release aggression.

A lot of good athletes are actually good people. To put it mildly, they never fought or had conflicts on the street. You don’t have to be some kind of maniac to learn how to fight. There are a lot of guys with two degrees, programmers, from whom I borrow books to read.

– Have you ever fought on the street? Have you ever had to defend yourself in this way?

– Of course, I grew up in the village. We fought normally, with the police and things like that. This is not a reason to be proud. And I won’t say that I was a great fighter there, looking for these adventures (I tried to avoid them). But given that I wasn’t the weakest in that fight and that I wasn’t very good at running away either, I had to participate. Someone came to our village, and we went to someone else’s village. This is more than enough reason for a dispute. It brings little joy, regardless of which side of the barricade you were on.

Everyone’s life is different. I could not have developed without fighting. I’ll say right away that I got A’s in school and graduated from the Tax Academy in Irpin with honors. So I wasn’t actually a bully.

Volunteering in Moshchun

– By the way, about your profession. My first impression was that you were a representative of a creative profession. Perhaps a screenwriter or designer. Why law, and what do you specialize in now?

– This is the best impression I could have had. I thought you were going to say security guard at ATB (retail shops – ed).

As an individual contractor, I work with large law firms or directly with clients in the public sector. I do everything related to the registration of non-profit organizations, and other legal entities as well.

And on the question of how to take money from the public sector. I worked with “Come Back Alive” until 2022. At first, I didn’t know who they were. Then I came to the office and found out. I said: “Let me do something for free”. The answer was clear: “All work must be paid for. This is the only way you make money.” I made a discount. Okay! They immediately paid by bank transfer. And we worked with them for a very long time on discounts.

Volunteering in Moshchun

– Why, then, is there such a sector as non-profit organizations? Its very name hints that there is no profit for a self-employed lawyer…

– It seems so to you) I worked at the Ministry of Justice for some time in this specialty. Then, in 2014, when the dollar went up, my salary went down. My family, mortgage, and salary of 130 dollars did not fit together. I had to work for myself.

We had a few people, and we are still doing it, working in parallel, bringing clients. We didn’t really have a choice: there was a sector that we understood and knew. We have been doing it ever since. We have had experience since 2007, so there are no questions we don’t know the answer to. It helps a lot.

You volunteer, teach children to wrestle, help NGOs, and at the same time have a rather original hobby – you are interested in ornithology. What does this mean in practice?

– I am actively interested in wildlife. It’s not just ornithology. I walk through fields and forests, look for dens and nests, take pictures, and collect coordinates. I collaborate with some scientists, send them data, and they promise me that they will use it in their research to generalize the system about nature, and take it into their PhD thesis. I did not become an ornithologist, so now I am catching up. With the war, you can’t go hiking in the woods, but you can still film some dens near villages.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Ihor Strembitskyi

I try to study as much as I can. I read scientific journals (oddly enough, our own, Ukrainian ones) that are available to read. There are scientists who let me get familiar with their work. There is Maryna, whom we visited at the Bila Skelia shelter. You just write to her: “Maryna, let me see your PhD thesis,” and in 5 minutes her work is hanging in your messenger.

It’s great that this is now available to people. Because if you listen to what hunters say((( They don’t understand biology, they only know how to shoot. For some time, I sat on hunting forums and had a lot of false illusions about zoology. Now I have to correct them. I also went hunting (but did not shoot). I heard a lot of things there, but for the most part, their knowledge is zero. There are fewer and fewer real knowledgeable hunters over the years. Today’s young hunters don’t know birds from each other. Is it flying? You have to shoot!

My wife and I used to go to the mountains, to nature reserves, to find wolf tracks, to see deer, wild boar, to find animals in the wild. It’s quite problematic with a 5-year-old. Because we go off-road. But we go to the forest together regularly to pick mushrooms and go through dens. I tell him: “Sit quietly, now the fox cubs will come out of there.” And then real wild animals come out…

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Adel Levchenko

– Let’s get back to the topic of volunteering. Your schedule of participation in B50 trips is quite regular. What allows you to be systematic and motivated?

– We’ve gone into some kind of philosophy again. So motivated! Is he? This guy goes every 2-3 weeks, pulling wheelbarrows. We have a war in Ukraine. We can’t do nothing! To look for motivation somewhere inside ourselves, to make pompous speeches about how everyone is united? We have to do it because no one else will do it!

We have a real team. We have fun, almost perfectly. We have a great psychological microclimate. 99% of people are kind, positive, and cheerful. We exchange books with some of the volunteers.

As for the psychological resilience that people ask about. I have developed a clear position and a kind of “watershed” for myself. We are all in a war, but we are not in Bakhmut, not in the trenches, and we are not being shot at. So there is no need to worry and whine. I came to the conclusion that while I am here, I should not fall for my emotional traps. Do everything you can! The words of the owners, like “Don’t turn the wheelbarrow here. Our son was torn by “Hrad”(artillery shell – ed.), here” does not bring joy. But a grown man has to hold on. This “holding on” is a bit difficult at the funerals of friends. But eventually, we come back to life.

Volunteering in Moshchun. Photo by Nataliia Hryniuk

How do you see the future of Ukraine?

– Everyone wants to believe in something good. But please tell me, do you see any prerequisites for ending the war now? russian gas and oil are being sold, and no internal conflicts are expected. Well, russia is utilizing Wagner and others, they don’t see any problems with that.

Our near future is not bright. I really believe that a miracle will happen: a switch will be found, the elves will flip it, and everyone will say: “Let’s go to the borders of 2022, or 2014, or 2013.” Of course, we agree with the propaganda that we will win back Crimea, but let’s be honest: those who say “we will win back” usually say it from some sofa. Not from the frontline at all.

That’s why our future is quite tough. We won’t be as happy as we were in 2021.

The interview team:

  • Coordinator – Anna Norynska
  • Interviewer – Nataliia Hryniuk
  • Transcriber – Nataliia Komissarova
  • Editor – Svitlana Rudokvas
  • Build editor – Bohdan Holovchenko
  • Translation – Yuliia Habdulova