Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The Ukrainian badminton players swapping racquets for weapons

Posted on 8 April 2022 by Nat Hayward

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In the five weeks since Russia launched an unprovoked and senseless invasion into their country, the lives of Ukrainian people have been altered forever. Families have been cut apart, cities destroyed, and soldiers made from anyone brave enough to take up weapons.

These new recruits include representatives from every corner of Ukrainian society – including badminton.

Vladyslav Ivanov

One of these is Vladyslav Ivanov, a coach at Mykolaiv Badminton Club, who had moved to Kyiv just three weeks before the start of the war for a new job.

Ivanov played badminton for 21 years, winning numerous national tournaments and for the last two years has been nurturing the next generation of Ukrainian players alongside coach of the national junior team Oleksandr Kunin.

Whilst many at his former club have received support from Lithuania and now train in Kaunas, Ivanov helped his family and friends escape to safer areas before joining the armed forces to defend his homeland.

“I had a military specialty and just couldn’t stand watching my hometown, Mykolayiv, being bombed”.

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He is now the commander of an airmobile platoon.

In a rousing call of defiance, he said: “To all the teammates, relatives, and loved ones who have left their homes, I want to say that I understand and share their pain. I hope and am sure that all of you will soon please us with success, and our flag will be proudly raised on the podiums of international venues. Do your best for that. Glory to Ukraine!”

Dmytro Ganzeych

A symbol of how Russia has cut through the innocence of a country comes in the form of Dmytro Granzeych. Granzeych is one of the pioneers of the Ukrainian social dance movement, a former professional dancer turned badminton player and coach.

Like many Ukrainians, he woke in the middle of the night Russia invaded to the sound of explosions, his hometown under siege.

“It’s something inside. You don’t think that you want to drink…A certain place in your heart tells you to do something.”

Within days he joined the Territorial Defence in Kyiv, a decision made simpler when he discovered, on the second day of the war, that his father had done the same.

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“We had a conversation with him. So, when I settled the question of the safety of my loved ones I decided to go to the defence of the city as well.”

“I got into the Territorial Defence on the 5th of 6th day when street fighting in the city of Kyiv was almost over, but the feeling that you were mortal was there from day one. Unlike my father I haven’t been active in combat yet.

“Maybe that’s a good thing…but on the other hand, I wanted to be useful, my blood was boiling to fight.”

Yevhen Repyakh

Yebhen Repyakh is a successful former professional badminton player and coach who was with his 18-year-old son Volodymyr, also a professional player, at his country house near Kyiv when war struck.

After ensuring their loved ones were safe, they travelled more than six thousand kilometres across Ukraine to help others cross the border.

“After standing in line for a while, sending my daughter away, spending the night at the border in a car my son Volodymyr and I received a request to take a non-walking mother of my acquaintances from Lviv to the border and take medicine to Kyiv.

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“We picked her up at 10am and bought her to Rava-Ruska. Here we saw a line to the border and people who stand in it for four days, or walk 20km with bags, children and animals…it was an unspeakable horror.”

The horrific images they saw at the border motivated them to go back and help others.

“This crossing was so striking that we wanted to help as many people as possible. So, we took about 25 people out and drove more than 6 thousand kilometres in some 2-3 weeks. We took people in one direction and brough humanitarian aid in the other back to Kyiv.”

Oleksandr Lazukin

Oleksandr Lazukin is a trophy winning amateur badminton player who owns a chain of coffee shops in Kyiv. Despite the imminent threat to the city, he kept his shops open for those defending the city to retain some concept of normality.

“I decided that I would try to keep open (my) establishments. First, I would occupy my people and give them an opportunity to make money for their families. Second, the people of Kyiv will be able to feel that life goes on, and we will win in any case. The third thing is that I decided to give 50% of the profits from the coffee shop to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defence Forces.”

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Whilst sacrificing his own chances of profit, Lazukin is also willing to sacrifice himself in order to defend his country.

“Together with a friend, we immediately took action. We delivered food, were determined to take up arms, and prepared Molotov cocktails. It was a shock-active state.”

“To the defenders of the city of Kyiv, I want to say that I am proud of you. If the situation gets any worse, I will stand with you side by side with a weapon in my hand.”


Information and quotes courtesy of Ukrainian journalist Maxim Sidorenko

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