Staff Writer: Madison Mataxas
If you’ve picked up a newspaper or been on any form of social media within the last month, chances are you know a little bit about what has been happening between Russia and Ukraine. More often than not, when we think of war, our thoughts don’t immediately go to the large numbers of students from the warring countries that are watching historical events unfold in their homeland from their dorm rooms in countries across the world.
Even fewer thoughts are devoted to the student-athletes working tirelessly to stay focused and perform at their championship meets or games. Among these athletes are Wingate swimmers Slava Ohnov from Ukraine, Fedor Sokolov from Russia, and Queens University swimmer Vlada Maznytska from Ukraine who worked hard to put their heavy hearts and cluttered minds aside and compete for NCAA titles at the Division II Championships in Greensboro, NC earlier this month.
As individual qualifiers for the NCAA championships, they knew that even with everything going on with them internally, their coaches and teammates counted on them to help win titles and points for the team. Throughout the meet, they realized that competing is one of the important things they could be doing to raise awareness and support during a time they all need it most.
At NCAAs Ohnov, a Junior at Wingate, competed in the 50 Freestyle, 100 Freestyle, and several relays for the Bulldogs. He won first-team All-American honors in the 100 Freestyle where he finished seventh and in the 400 Freestyle Relay. “It didn’t go as well as I’d like or hoped it would…I made a few finals and won some NCAA trophies…I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with it, but I’ll take it, especially with everything that is going on,” Ohnov said. Before coming to the US, Ohnov and Maznytska swam together and studied in the same school for a little bit. More now than ever, they try to keep in touch, checking in on each other and their families. “Thank God we still have ways to connect with our families…I text my mother every day and call once every 3 to 4 days,” Ohnov said.
To many of us, being on the other side of the world from our families and friends while war has broken out in our country feels like a very foreign concept, but for Ohnov and his family, it is becoming their new normal. “They’re scared, but my mom recently told me that they are starting to get used to the emergency alarms…it’s not a good thing but they are trying to keep their routine going,” Ohnov said. He went on to say that many of his friends have gone to help with territorial defense and even though they don’t have military experience, there are people with experience teaching them. “I talked to one of my friends who went to the frontline and made it back. He said it was the scariest thing he has ever seen…I’m just glad he made it back,” Ohnov sighed. “I have never been more proud to be a Ukrainian and I kind of feel guilty for not being there but my friends have said that they don’t need people right now, they need supplies (weapons, ammunition, and food)…We have more people than resources…People go for defense and are sent back after they are checked in and are told that they will be called when they are needed.”.
While talking about what is happening in their country can be painful, Ohnov feels that doing so helps spread awareness and support. He has recently started a GoFundMe to help his family in Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine, 200 miles south of Kyiv, and has already raised $3,580 which he will send directly to them. “I have received a lot of support from teammates, friends, and even the Wingate staff like professors…I couldn’t ask for more…I started this to financially help my family and the shelters because it’s the best way I can help them right now,” Ohnov said.
His family has stayed in Ukraine to take care of Ohnov’s grandparents and 3 dogs so leaving is not easy. “They are trying to help out everyone around…My mother is an elementary school teacher and has been helping to make the school into a shelter for refugees and those without a place to live,” Ohnov said.
Looking toward the future, Ohnov’s summer plans are a bit different this year. With his home country at war and Ukraine’s travel restrictions, he is not able to return for the summer, but he is not letting that stop him. As a Criminal Justice major, he has applied for internships in South Carolina in their Law Enforcement Division to gain experience and benefit his future career and will continue to train for the 2022-2023 swim season where he has high hopes to compete at NCAAs for himself and his country once more.
Link to Slava Ohnov’s GoFundMe: