Amid the war, Ukrainian shuttlers on different battle in Malaysia

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4: While their countrymen are fighting on the battlefield, three Ukrainian national badminton players are also in a battle for their beloved country.

The players are preparing for international championships from their temporary training location in Klang, Malaysia – thousands of kilometres from Ukraine.

Since June this year, the three professional players – 18-year-old women’s singles player Polina Buhrova, and women’s doubles pair Mariia Stoliarenko (18) and Yelyzaveta Zharka (30) – have been training under Malaysian coach Salim Samion.

Salim was recruited by the Ukrainian Badminton Federation,  and has been with the federation since October 2021. He was based at the national training centre in Kyiv but was forced to leave the country after war erupted on Feb 24 between Russia and Ukraine.

Zharka explained that before the war, they never practiced with Salim as he was staying in the national centre in Kyiv.

“But we all practiced in our club in Kharkiv with our own coach,” she told Bernama in an interview.

Stoliarenko and Zharka are intensely training for the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan (August 22-28) while Buhrova will be competing at the European Junior Championships in Belgrade, Serbia (Aug 18-27).

For the record, the Stoliarenko-Zharka pair also played in the Malaysia Open 2022 (June 28-July 3) and the 2022 Malaysia Masters (July 5-10). The pair is ranked 63th in the world while Buhrova is ranked 125th.

The three shuttlers are from Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, where fighting is still going on.

The trio travelled to a few countries and participated in some tournaments before reaching Malaysia.

Zharka has a Masters degree in Sports Management and Coaching and coached at a kids’ club, before the war put an end to everything. She said among the casualties of the war was the father of a kid she once coached. Stoliarenko and Buhrova are continuing their university studies via online.

Sharing their ordeal, Zharka explained that while their sports centre where they trained had been completely destroyed, their dreams to achieve success is still burning inside them.

Zharka said her parents have moved to a village some 30km from their home in the city, and Buhrova’s mother is now in Spain but her father and brother moved to West Ukraine. Stoliarenko’s father is still in Kharkiv but her mother and brother are in France.

The shuttlers said they are in constant touch with their parents and family members.

“We cannot believe this war had happened but accepted this is the reality. In fact, like many other Ukrainians, we all have relatives in Russia; but since the war, they are not on talking terms with us. We hope and pray the war will end soon,” said Zharka.

According to Zharka, their stay in Malaysia was arranged by the Ukrainian Badminton Federation.

“All our needs are taken care of by our badminton federation. Our coach is very good… and we have no problems adapting in Malaysia be it food, climate or accommodation,” said Zharka.

“Malaysians are very kind and friendly people. We are here for the first time but it is a nice place” Stoliarenko chimed in.

The shuttlers will be playing in a charity match – “Ukrainian national players challenging Malaysian Badminton Enthusiasts” – on Aug 6 in Damansara Perdana, and the money collected will be donated for Ukraine humanitarian cause.

For Zharka and Stoliarenko, they promised their people that they would try their level best, at least to win one or two rounds in the World Championships, as they have only been playing together for about a year.

On the other hand, Buhrova is competing in individual and team events, and she aims to be the European Junior Champion to show to the world that Ukrainians are still strong despite the current situation in their country.

The three players will not come back to Malaysia after their tournaments – Buhrova will stay in Europe, while Zharka and Stoliarenko will move to France.

“We never imagined we will be here in Malaysia, but we think this is the best option during the war… but at the same time, it is a good opportunity to learn something new… Asian-style training, as we can train in different climate and condition,” explained Zharka.

“Next time we come here, we hope our country’s fate would have changed,” she further said. -TVS

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