At first glance, you might confuse the landscape of rusting machines for a Stalin-era Gulag. But the crude boards and bars are not the relics of forced labor; they form what is known as the most grueling gym in the world.
Located on Trukhaniv Island in Kiev, Ukraine, the fitness park has been open for over 40 years to those looking for the most extreme workout conditions known to man. The workout benches are made of solid wood and have absolutely no padding. Enormous chains hold corroded weights to rudimentary barbells. There are no TVs, no free towels, no nothing … except raw machines. This is exercise at its most primal.
Locals know it as Kachalka, a name derived from the Ukrainian word kachat, meaning “to pump.” And pump people do. The park spans a massive 6.2 square miles, providing enough space for a small army to exercise. Men and women of all shapes and sizes frequent the complex each year in hopes of attaining the perfect physique.
Intrigued by the pictures I stumbled across, I wanted to know everything I could about this place. Who built it, how many people willingly subject themselves to these torturous conditions, and most importantly, is that guy really lifting a barbell fitted with tires?
Turns out, finding information on Kalchalka is almost as easy escaping the Gulag (i.e., nearly impossible). I did find one source, however, that shed a bit of light on the park’s history.
The epic outdoor gym was opened by the unlikely duo of a gymnast and a mathematics professor. Kasimir Jagelsky and professor Yuri Kuk built the workout space together in the early 1970s using excess vehicle parts, salvaged tanks and other scrap materials.
The place is unique in that Ukrainians of all ages and social classes visit the facility each year. Teen boys mingle with middle-aged women and elderly men, all with the common goal of becoming stronger and healthier.
The facility is free and open to the public, meaning tourists are more than welcome to check it out and pump some iron while on vacation. However, anyone choosing to visit should heed a piece of advice the guy above likely wishes he would have had: bring a spotter.
All photo credits: Kirill Golovchenko