Everyone is aware of the devastation of Ukraine at the hands of the Russian army. Life is no longer safe for anyone and families, homes and livelihoods are being torn apart.
Through a WSEH Athletic Club member, we have been approached by Iolanta Khoprach, General Secretary of the Ukrainian Athletics Federation (UAF) asking to help support international and developing Ukrainian athletes.
Iolanta resolutely stayed in Kyiv, trying to look after her athletes. Ukrainian athletes are, under normal circumstances, supported by their Federation. But, as Iolanta and her colleagues cannot access their offices to use Athletic Federation Systems, banks accounts, etc., many athletes are financially and physically adrift. Like millions of other Ukrainians, their homes are no longer safe or have been raised to the ground, as in the case of paralympian Dmytro Suiarko, whose home was destroyed the day before he won a bronze medal.
High Jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh is currently in Belgrade to compete in the Indoor World Championships. She endured a nightmare 3 day journey, alone, to get to Belgrade. It will take immense mental strength for gold medal contenders, such as Yaroslava, to compete at their best in such circumstances. Without support, it is uncertain where she can find somewhere safe to live and train after the championships.
Training is impossible in Ukraine, where even stadia are being targeted in the Russian campaign of annihilation. Two days ago a training facility at Chernihiv was destroyed by shells.
Apart from going out to find food, athletes, like others people, are staying in the shelter of basements and bunkers. This is unimaginable to us, but that is now daily life for Ukrainians unable to leave their country.
For Ukraine as a country, it is a matter of national pride and a statement of nationhood, to be represented at international competitions. It is also an opportunity to achieve something that is denied to Russia at the moment - competition on the international sporting stage. To do this, Ukrainian athletes need support to pay for travel, accommodation, food and kit. Athletes who have been able to leave have done so with only a small bag of personal effects and clothing. They also need to have somewhere safe to stay, especially if they do not have a home to return to, which would be one worry less for their families, whether they are still in Ukraine or abroad.
Iolanta, as Secretary of the Athletic Federation, is very clear that if her federation can get athletes to important competitions, such as the Indoor World Championship in Belgrade, Serbia and the European Throwing Cup in Leiria, Portugal, it will make an important statement to the world about Ukraine standing strong as an independent nation. Competing has become a political mission as much as a sporting one for the Ukrainians. It also gives the athletes themselves a focus and the knowledge that they are doing something for their country even if they are not physically defending their homes and communities as many are doing.
As a Club, WSEH AC have thought about how it might be perceived, asking for help specifically for athletes when so many Ukrainian people need help to subsist. But, as a Club that has nurtured athletes to international level, with our athletes competing at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and numerous other international competitions, we understand the immense national pride that such events inspire. We also understand that national pride is of crucial importance to Ukraine and its people in these awful times. As a Club, we understand the importance of offering what support we can, without which Ukraine will be disadvantaged on the track and on the field for more than one generation
For these reasons we feel it is the right to try and generate all the help we can for the Ukrainian Athletics Federation in order to create a beacon of hope, not just for the athletes, but for the fiercely independent nation of Ukraine.