Ukrainian woman conquers 7 highest mountains around globe
Having lost her home in Donetsk in June 2014 because of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Tetyana Yalovchak, now 38, decided to change her life.
She has succeeded, by becoming the first Ukrainian woman to conquer the seven highest mountains on each of the continents of the world, called the Seven Summits. The National Register of Records of Ukraine on Dec. 18 recognized Yalovchak as the first Ukrainian woman to climb all of the mountains.
Her passion for climbing actually began years before the war in Donbas, but the idea of climbing all of the seven highest peaks of the world came to Yalovchak after she went on vacation in 2014.
“I found out that I had no home anymore; my place, located close to Donetsk airport, was destroyed,” Yalovchak says. “When I lost everything, I felt the need to reformat my life, I wanted to reach a new level. I knew I had to climb higher.”
The battle of Donetsk Airport was fought between late May 2014 and January 2015, and was one of the bloodiest and most tragic episodes of Russia’s war on Ukraine in the Donbas, which in over four years has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Yalovchak trekked up her first peak — Machu Picchu, Peru, back in 2011. Since then, the climber has climbed nearly 50 peaks all around the globe.
“Ukrainians usually chose Carpathian Mountains for their first hiking trips. I myself chose Machu Picchu in Peru. My friends invited me to their wedding there, but all I really wanted was to spend a night in a sleeping bag. This is how it all started,” Yalovchak says.
Yalovchak started her Seven Summits journey in 2012, climbing up the Kilimanjaro peak, the highest mountain in Africa, on March 7. A year after conquering the first of the world’s seven highest mountains, Yalovchak trekked up the highest mountain in Europe, Mount Elbrus, at 5,642 meters high. The third mountain conquered was Aconcagua, the 6,960-meter-high mountain in Argentina, in March 2015.
Yalovchak says that Mount Everest in Nepal, the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848 meters, which was the fourth mountain of the Seven Summits she conquered, was one of the toughest.
“Everest is the highest peak in the world, and it was the most difficult journey. We had to live in a base camp at 5,200 meters for 40 days, which is quite dangerous for human health. When every movement takes up to 3–4 seconds, there is no appetite at all, and thus, the higher you go, the more difficult it becomes,” Yalovchak says. “The only thing that helped me was salo, the traditional Ukrainian pork dish. I try to take it with me when I go hiking.”
Reaching the peak of Mount Everest on March 26, 2016, Yalovchak became the second Ukrainian woman to conquer the world’s high-
est mountain, after Irina Galay, who reached the top of Everest on May 20, 2016. Yalovchak then went on to Mount Denali, Alaska in June, 2017.
“I consider Denali in Alaska to be the most challenging of all the peaks I have ever been to. Although it is not the highest, only 6,190 meters, it is very harsh. I had to carry all my equipment by myself, I had to do everything by myself,” Yalovchak says. “Due to a storm in Alaska, we had to prolong the expedition up to 18 days, instead of seven.”
After Alaska, Yalovchak climbed Mount Kosciuszko in Australia last October. The mountaineer reached the top of Puncak Jaya in Indonesia in November, and a month later, Yalovchak reached the peak of the Vinson Massif, located in Antarctica.
“In Antarctica, I felt like I was on another planet. When the plane landed on ice, I couldn’t see anything. Although we landed at 2 a.m. the sun was shining really bright,” Yalovchak says. “I was afraid I might die in Antarctica, as we had three most horrible days there, when we stayed in tents in the mountains, where the wind gusts at up to 60 meters per second.”
Vinson Massif was the last of the Seven Summits Yalovchak conquered. However, she doesn’t like to use the word “conquer” to describe her ascents of the mountains.
“Up in the mountains I realized how powerful nature was. I never say that I conquered the mountain, I come to visit it, to see its beauty. I always ask the mountain to accept me, but then to let me go. It might sound strange, but it is my philosophy, and it helps,” Yalovchak says. “Moreover, I always carry rushnyk, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered towel, that my grandmother made many years ago. It protects me and I think it is very symbolic, when a girl from Donetsk, who wants peace in her country, takes a Ukrainian rushnyk to the highest peaks of the world.”
Even after achieving her goal, Yalovchak had no plans to stop. She set herself the challenge of the Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim, held in Turkey on July 22. The climber was among 2,500 participants, and she trained for three months to cross the 6.5 kilometers strait between Europe and Asia. It took her only an hour-and-a-half, instead of the two-and-a-half hours allowed.
“I thought, if my plan with the mountains was successful, why not try water? So I did, although I almost gave up, as the last 200 meters were the hardest and I had to swim against the current. All these months of preparation were needed only to overcome the current. In my life I’ve never given up, and I never did,” says Yalovchak.
Yalovchak is now invited by many companies, schools, orphanages in Ukraine to motivate people by telling her own story.
“Mountains make people stronger, they discipline them and help them become more punctual. This is what people forget about when they try to achieve goals,” Yalovchak says. “I never call myself a professional, I’m an ordinary person, and I don’t teach people what they should do, I only show them, with my own example, that despite their life circumstances a person can achieve anything.”
Tetyana Yalovchak holds a rushnyk, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered towel, on the peak of the Vinson Massif, Antarctica, in December. (Courtesy)
Tetyana Yalovchak talks to the Kyiv Post at Mamamia restaurant in Kyiv, on Aug. 14. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)