Andrii Mochurad, a TV journalist and traveler, knows what a dream is and how to make it come true. He has two degrees – in intelligent and computer networks, and in culture. In 2013-2014, he created video reports from the Middle East (Syria, Iraq), Turkey, Kosovo, later from the war in Donbas. In 2014-2015, he served in the Aidar Battalion where he got several injuries. After the Anti-Terroristic Operation, he was into some cultural projects, e.g. publishing comics about the war in Donbas. At the end of the last year, he started his hitchhiking journey to Antarctica in order to make a documentary with Viktor-Mykola Havryliuk about Ukrainian scientists at the Vernadsky Research Station. Besides, he wants to write a book about this crazy journey across Brazil and Argentina to Antarctica. Opinion talked to Andrii about hitchhiking, penguins, the future documentary and a book of reports he is going to write with Havryliuk as a co-author.
The idea to go to a white continent appeared a year ago when I was talking to Yevhen Dyky [the head of the Antarctica Centre – ED.]. We have known each other since 2014 when we were at the war.
Yevhen knew that I made reports in the ATO and Iraq. I asked him whether they were going to have an expedition that year, whether media tell about them. He said that the expedition will take place but they have no money for PR. He offered me to make a film about the Station, but he only could provide me with accommodation and food at the Station.
It took me a long time to get prepared. I had to train to be in good shape and earn money for equipment and journey. By the way, I still haven’t covered a part of my expenses. For example, the captain of the yacht who brought us to penguins borrowed me a part of the sum on the pledge of the word. Besides, the sum he asked for was four times as little as a price for tourists.
The most difficult thing about the journey was changing information. Because of a negligent attitude and recklessness of some Ukrainians and Chileans, we lost more than a month because of logistic problems. People sometimes recommended us to come back home but we didn’t give up. However, we lost the whole month. My backpack was also very heavy, together with the equipment, it weighed about 30 kilograms. But our idea was to hitchhike there. So we did. I mean we are not afraid of a difficult journey, but the most difficult thing is that people renege on their promise and you depend on them.
The first impression of Antarctica was like “finally it is calm”. It is kind of adventure to cross the Drake Strait on a yacht. Once we had to bail out a boat during a storm because the pump didn’t work. Icebergs are astonishing, when blizzard ended, the first thing I thought was – I finally can stand on the deck not wearing many layers of clothes.
Then I was impressed by whales, penguins, cormorants and fur seals – these animals are not afraid of people. One penguin was pulling my leg, fur seals were showing their small teeth, despite the fact they are sociopaths, they were comfortable with us being three meters away from them.
Our main goal is the book and the film. The book is to be published by the DIPA Publishing in the next year. It will be in the form of travelogues – about the journey, hitchhiking and our adventures. So, we have done it and we are the first Ukrainians who hitchhiked to the Vernadsky Station. To be precise, we are the first people in the history of the Vernadsky Station to have hitchhiked there. Personally, I changed three ships\ yachts and even spent a night in a tent on an island. I needn’t have done it, but I just did as a part of the experiment.
The second goal is the film. We don’t have a fiction plot – we are creating rather a documentary. We are now collecting material, and later we are going to focus on the plot. Actually, the polar explorers have shot something during each expedition. They have good stories but not in good quality. I wish these materials became a perfect product in HD at least. As for us, we try to shoot even in 4K.
What concerns promotion and etc. – we have an agreement with an American producing company but because of our adventures, we are missing the deadline. I mean it is a long and complicated process because the project isn’t funded by any media. Ukrainian channels are interested in violence, elections, political games. Ukrainian media aren’t mature enough for projects about polar explorers in the format of a film. Moreover, they are not ready to finance it. It is upsetting, but people told us it is impossible even to get to Antarctica. And here I am. So it is possible. I guess we will manage to do the film as well. We aren’t going to tell more about the film, we have much work ahead. But the film is going to be a documentary one.
What concerns “the team and us”, I work with Viktor Havryliuk, he is from the Volyn region, Ukraine. We both fought in the ATO and are members of Plast – a Ukrainian scout organization. Viktor has been traveling since September, he crossed Brazil, of course, he had a bunch of adventures. In November, Viktor was robbed, we had to restore his ID – there were really many adventures. It is good for the book, but not very good for the film.
The book and the film are different projects. In the book, we describe everything which happened to us, and the film is a documentary which won’t tell about adventures. The book will tell about how we were getting to Antarctica in order to make a film and whether we have managed to do that.
As for my previous projects – I have made reports from flashpoints. But it is absolutely different. I used to make reports for the news but the point is that if you have shot anything at least on your phone and you are alive – it will be enough for the news. A documentary is absolutely another format, and it is really difficult to take all details into account. For example, when we set off, we had three mics. One of them was mistakenly left in Chilli with a part of our luggage which was just lost, another one got broken (a lavalier), the third mic got its cables broken. I don’t understand how and why, moreover, both cables were damaged in the middle of the frame. We fixed and tested the latter one yesterday. Now it works. Explorers joke and say it is OK because it is Antarctica.
How has the war changed me? It is hard to say. I guess I’ve become more cynical and I don’t believe in miracles. I believe in kind people and that work brings results. You do well when you are result-oriented and not afraid of risk. The war let me realize that I have to do many things if I’ve survived. But this is another story.
Hitchhiking is a way of thinking. It is not about saving money, it is the only way to meet many local people with their stories and information you often can’t find on the Internet or can’t find at all. If you hitchhike, you are an explorer, if you travel by bus, you are just a tourist. There is a big difference between a traveler and a tourist.
On the one hand, our project is an ego trip, but it is an amusing challenge and chance to reconsider ourselves. I should tell up front, I don’t recommend anybody to repeat our journey – it is not the Carpathians, Norway or Iceland. There are really different dangers, conditions, rules. I mean, it is not easy. Only now, I realize what serious obstacles and dangers to life an uncareful person can face.
We have just heard how somebody wished a seasonal explorer “a calm Drake” in the corridor. The Drake Strait is a place where the biggest number of ships have drowned. And we were crossing it being on the yacht and during the storm. You sleep holding your bed, many people feel nauseous.
We had good conditions when we set off – we had agreements with scientists about our accommodation on bases because we were doing that job as journalists.
But despite this, I had several troubles for two weeks. The glasses I was wearing were scratched by a bird which attacked me from the rock, it was protecting its nest. I was escaping on the kayak from leopards and fur seals. I almost fell down into the water when a whale was swimming behind the boat – I just didn’t see it because I was taking photos of another one. And it is only a part of adventures.
It will just suffice to mention waking up in the tent on an island in the middle of the ocean and ice when your sleeping bag got wet. And you can’t set fire to dry your stuff – there’s just no wood for that.
After the expedition
I am going to make the book out of all the written materials I have, and the film out of all the videos I’ve made. But it takes much time. Although I do want to hitchhike further from Peru to Mexico and Alaska, I have many commitments. I guess I’ll do it the next time. And now I am going to edit the film and recall how awfully penguins Gentoo smell. They really smell unbearably, though they look very funny in the video when you sleep near them, you feel like you are in an animal house.
For your information.
Ukraine is one of the 30 countries of the world which has its permanent station in Antarctica that works the whole year. Every 12 months, a year-long expedition comes to the Akademik Vernadsky Station. It consists of scientists and technical staff. Also, there are seasonal expeditions during the Antarctic summertime.
By Valerii Puzik
Photos from Andrii Mochurad’s archive