The longer wars last, the greater the danger that outsiders will become numb to the never-ending news. This makes it all the more important to keep reminding ourselves that behind every dead or injured person there is a human fate. Last Saturday, two Ukrainian climbers died in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar: Oleksandr Zakolodniy and Hryhoriy Hryhoriev. Both of them became only 35 years old. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine eleven months ago, they – like many other Ukrainian mountaineers – had put aside their ice axes and ropes and taken up arms to defend their homeland.
While Hryhoriev was still training to become a mountain guide, Zakolodniy was already making international headlines. He earned the prestigious mountaineering title “Snow Leopard” by scaling all five of the seven-thousanders located on the territory of the former Soviet Union: Khan Tengri (7,010 m) and Dzhengish Chokusu (formerly called Peak Pobedy, 7,439 m) in the Tian Shan Mountains, as well as Peak Lenin (7,134 m), Peak Korshenevskaya (7,105 m) and Peak Ismoil Somoni (formerly Peak Communism, 7,495 m) in the Pamir Mountains.
In 2013 he narrowly escaped the Nanga Parbat massacre
And Zakolodniy was also involved in climbing the eight-thousanders. In spring 2010, Oleksandr was a member of a Ukrainian expedition to the 8,485-meter-high Makalu in Nepal, where the 13-member mountaineering team opened a new route variation through the Southwest Face. Zakolodniy passed up the summit and turned back at 7,700 meters: He helped a teammate suffering from high altitude sickness down to base camp. In fall 2010, Zalkolodniy was back in the Himalayas: on a Ukrainian-Russian expedition (for decades, expeditions of climbers from these two nations were commonplace!) to Cho Oyu in Tibet. At 7,150 meters was the end of the line, the weather did not play along.
In summer 2013, Zakolodniy was part of an international team that attempted the 8,125-meter-high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. During the expedition, Taliban terrorists entered the base camp and shot eleven climbers, including three Ukrainians. Oleksandr escaped the attack only because he was on the mountain at the time.
Climbing coach for children and teenagers
Zakolodniy came to mountaineering at an early age. As a schoolboy, Zakolodniy joined a hiking club in his hometown of Kharkiv. There he also gained his first climbing experience. He later deepened these during his sports studies. Zakolodniy was a member of the Ukrainian national mountaineering team, climbed in competitions and took part in expeditions. In Ukraine, he was one of the most famous alpinists – also because he was committed. Zakolodniy was vice president of the national mountaineering and climbing dederation. For ten years, Oleksandr also trained children and young people at the “Vertikal” climbing center he ran in Kharkiv.
He was “incredibly strong physically” as a sport climber and also as a high-altitude mountaineer, Irina Poltavets, a friend of Zakolodniy’s family, wrote on Facebook, characterizing him as “always smiling, active, incredibly responsible not only for himself and his large family (four daughters), but also for other people’s children and the future of the sport and the country.” Zakolodniy is survived by his wife Olga, as well as two daughters they had together and two daughters his wife brought into the marriage.
Initially rejected by the army
Photographer Denis Kolisnychenko, a friend of Zakolodniy’s since childhood, reported on Facebook that shortly after the Russian invasion began, the mountaineer helped him and many acquaintances escape from the besieged small town of Chuhuiv near Kharkiv. Zakolodniy told him that the Ukrainian army had initially rejected the climber as unsuitable. Eventually, however, Zakolodniy and his friend Hryhoriev were accepted into a special unit, for which they fought until the end. “War takes the best,” Kolisnychenko concluded.
Commenting on the death of “Sanya” Zakolodniy, Ukrainian mountaineer Andrii Vergeles wrote: “In 2013, Sanya survived the attack by Pakistani terrorists on the base camp on Nanga Parbat. In 2023, Sanya was killed in the attack by Russian terrorists on Ukraine.”