It’s after dark in Kiev, hometown of the man who calls himself Mustang Wanted. The 28-year-old (real name Hryhoriy) stands with his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his old jogging pants and a hood covering his face. It’s the face that is somewhat familiar, its grinning visage having graced, at one point or the other, the social media feeds of most of the world’s population.
Mustang has hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and his YouTube videos get millions of clicks. There aren’t many cities in the world he can walk around as undisturbed as he is now. He’s been arrested by the police in every country he’s visited, for climbing skyscrapers, bridges, towers or churches without any safety precautions. If he ever sets foot on Russian soil again, he’ll face seven years in prison.
THE RED BULLETIN: Aren’t you scared of the police?
MUSTANG WANTED: The greater the chance of being caught, the better, because it’s more of a challenge. My favorite thing to do is to clamber up scaffolding on the front of a building, in full view of everyone. And just for the record, I never break in anywhere. I am very careful not to harm anyone.
There’s a word for the latest sports craze of climbing over the roofs of houses: roofing. You must be the
most famous roofer in the world …
Hang on a minute, I’m not a roofer. What I do out there is more than roofing. Take what I did in St. Petersburg a couple of years back at that building site with the huge crane. I went up there with a BASE- jumper friend, wandered over the metal construction, did my tricks. Imagine a roofer doing any of that. Roofers don’t walk along metal rods just a couple of centimeters wide. It’s like slacklining, only harder. It’s very easy to counterbalance and control the movements a slackline makes. You can’t do that when you’re [650 feet] in the air on the metal struts of a crane. The wind rattles the bar you’re standing on and it’s almost impossible to control the situation. When it got boring, we turned the crane on and started rotating it.
What’s the tallest building you’ve climbed to date?
The Princess Tower in Dubai. I was just hanging over the edge there, [1,358 feet] up. But I didn’t do it for the sake of breaking a height record. It was about the experience. Experiences are worth more than records.
It’s one of the most breathtaking images anywhere on the Internet: you hanging there by your fingertips at that dizzying height. Professional climbers would have a safety harness, a rope and, at the very least, a helmet.
I trust my hands more than I trust any kind of climbing equipment. And seeing as you’ve mentioned the Internet, I don’t care how much attention I attract. People can do what they want. If they want to subscribe to my channel or like my stuff on social networks, they’re absolutely welcome to. I don’t care. The opinion of the public doesn’t make me any stronger or weaker. I’m just doing what I enjoy, which is climbing buildings and making cool videos.
But it’s not always just about climbing, is it? You do chin-ups on the icy metal struts of a bridge 300 feet up in the air in subzero temperatures. You skateboard just above sheer drops. Can you understand why that annoys the police?
I’ve had trouble with the police everywhere: Kiev, Moscow, Bratislava, Berlin, Dubai, Budapest. But I honestly can’t understand why. What I do harms no one. And I mean no one. So why should I end up in prison?
You actually end up in prison remarkably rarely. How do you manage to avoid the police?
I run away. It sounds obvious, but it works. Policemen don’t run as fast as me. The trickiest thing is if I’m climbing a bridge and the police are waiting up at the top in their car. If that happens, there’s no way for me to escape. So I have to outwit them. I have to run in the opposite direction from the one they’re facing. Then it’s them trapped, because they have to get to the other end of the bridge before they can turn around. And that gives me more than enough time.
Do the police in every country react to your stunts in the same way?
Europeans are polite, and so are the police there. Like on that really tall bridge in Budapest. It was a hot, sunny day and an exhausting, difficult climb, then suddenly a wasp stung me on the arm. I have no idea what it was doing all the way up there. I reached the top of the bridge, but my arm was giving me problems because of that damn wasp. Someone had seen me from below and called the police, but when they arrested me, they offered me medical assistance first. I thought that was nice.
Is it true that in Russia you have a prison sentence hanging over you?
Yes, seven years. And the Russian police are the harshest. Last year, I climbed this building in Moscow and painted a Soviet star, [577 feet] up, in the colors of Ukraine. I didn’t get caught, but four of my BASE-jumper friends who just happened to be there were arrested and have been languishing in prison ever since. What I do mocks the sense of existing laws. If I shot at people at random on the street, I’d get three years. But now I’m meant to go to prison for seven years because I climbed up a building and painted a star? What a sick world.
How do the Ukrainian police react to your stunts?
They like taking pictures of me. [Laughs.]
Have you had any unusual run-ins with the law?
That time I mentioned earlier, when I was coming down the Princess Tower in Dubai: I ran straight into the arms of two watchmen who were incredibly big and ugly. They said something or other in Arabic, and I didn’t understand a word. Then one of them grabbed me and, of course, I struggled to free myself. It could so easily have come to blows. But then I showed them videos and pictures of me clambering over other buildings, and they liked that. So by the time the police arrived, the whole situation had long since calmed down. They asked me how I’d got onto the roof. They thought I must have broken open locks or something like that. But it was just that someone had left a window on the top floor open. I showed them, then they let me go.
Is there any kind of philosophy behind what you do?
I’m interested in philosophy. I even studied it for a few years. But then I quit university because I wasn’t interested in titles and qualifications. You don’t need all that to be happy. I have my own philosophy of life. Don’t try to understand it. I’m convinced that if you enjoy doing something and don’t harm anyone doing it, it’s the right thing to do. No one will persuade you it’s a crime. But be clear about one thing: I don’t do this to be rich or famous, or to set new sporting records. I just do it because I enjoy it.
What do you do to combat fear when you’re hanging by your fingertips hundreds of feet in the air?
Nothing. I don’t have to do anything to combat fear, because I’m not afraid. I’m relaxed and focused—that’s all that matters. You need relaxation and focus for control.
What do you do on a quiet evening in?
I drink tea. Only tea. I never drink alcohol or take other drugs. And I watch videos. [Points to a laptop displaying a YouTube video of skateboarder James Kelly.] Look at the speeds he’s riding. What he does is amazing. Watch him closely. You’ll see that when he’s on his board, he’s completely relaxed, too.