Moki Kokoris, polar explorer

Moki Kokoris raising the Ukrainian flag on the North Pole.

Moki Kokoris raising the Ukrainian flag on the North Pole.

Many people have a claim to fame, but few have one quite like that of Moki Kokoris, a Ridgefielder since 1993.

Kokoris was the first Ukrainian woman to raise the flag for her country at the geographic North Pole. She was also the 14th woman overall to successfully reach the North Pole.

Kokoris never remembers a time that she was not obsessed with the Arctic and the polar regions. As young as five years old she was reading non-fiction books about the Arctic in an igloo-like structure on her bed, asking for polar bears. Coming from the Buffalo, N.Y., area, she spent as much time as possible outdoors in the snow and cold exploring everything that she could about nature.

After high school, Kokoris went on to get a degree in architecture from Cooper Union and then a graduate degree in music from the Ukrainian Music Institute. With her degrees, Kokoris went to work for an architectural firm in the first Twin Tower. She also developed her skills as a graphic designer, illustrator, and calligrapher and established a reputation for her artistic work.

After 9/11, her life changed forever. Along with the destruction of the building where she had worked were the lost lives of many of her friends and co-workers. Like many others who were closely involved, Kokoris went through a depression and sought a therapist.

“My therapist advised me to not focus on the past, but to look at previous passions in my life and pursue these other interests,” Kokoris said.

“This was an easy choice for me. I had visited the ice hotels in the Arctic Circle, slept on ice, and was totally invigorated by the polar environment. This was how I was going to refocus my interest.”

To start on her quest, Kokoris decided to visit the geographic North Pole.

“I knew that I could not go to the North Pole on my own. Therefore, I joined the first group to run a marathon around the North Pole. I did not run the marathon but went by helicopter and on foot to the summit to raise my flag for Ukraine on April 18, 2003.”

“The feeling that I experienced on April 19 was absolute nirvana. It was so much better than I ever expected. I was where I needed to be. It is so sad that today, not that many years later, people, in most cases, cannot walk across the ice to reach the North Pole.”

After her first real trek to the Arctic, Kokoris wanted to surround herself with treasures from the polar regions. She began collecting native costumes, works of art, animal parts used for various tools, an actual narwhale jaw, animal skins, rocks representative of the area, and anything that would bring an understanding of the culture and vastness of the region to others.

As Kokoris began to research, write and travel more in the Arctic, she was approached by the United Nations and began to work with them on various projects. She became the UN representative for the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations NGO in consultative status with the Department of Public Information. She has also served on the Planning and Declaration Committees of the UN on climate change and has been an editor for their publications.

In addition to her work with the UN, Kokoris is an active member of the Explorer’s Club, editor of the Polar Times and author for the World Ecology Report. On her own, Kokoris founded 90-North, a program that introduces students to the Arctic and covers practically every content area possible. It emphasizes that everything we do in life matters.

When at home in Ridgefield, Kokoris teaches piano and shares her knowledge about the Arctic and climate change with others.

“I love going into the schools, libraries, and other venues with my multitude of authentic artifacts from the Arctic. I want people to feel like they are actually there and can begin to visualize what life might be like in the Arctic. I do not focus on facts and figures about climate change, I use imagery so that students can draw their own conclusions. I like to use the inquiry method to teach, not the lecture method.”

Those who would like to learn more about the Arctic, may visit her gallery of Arctic imagery on Facebook under Moki Kokoris or at 90-north.com.

Many of the amazing photos on her sites are her own, but she has also collected great photos from other photographers. After viewing these colorful and breathtaking photos, you will never think of the Arctic as just a cold, stark and barren place again.

 

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