‘We heard shots above us as we drove past tanks to escape from Kyiv’
By ROSANNA RADLINSKA-TYMA – Squash Mad European Correspondent
Squash Mad European Correspondent Rosanna Radlinska-Tyma lives in Poland. She has welcomed a Ukrainian refugee family into her home.
For Squash Mad, she has undertaken to find out how the illegal invasion by Russia has affected the squash community in Ukraine.
Her first interview is with Ukraine squash player, coach and referee Iana Kovalska.
February 24th, 2022 was a day of enormous turbulence that has shaken the whole of Europe. Russia invaded Ukraine. I cannot describe how frightened I felt and I am not Ukrainian, so to imagine what the Ukrainians felt that day was too much to take for me.
My last article on Squash Mad was an interview with a Russian entrepreneur, so I felt I owe the Ukrainian squash community more than one piece.
I am beyond proud of Poland, the way people reacted, rushed to help and support the Ukrainian nation. I am proud of Europe. I have been hosting the Ukrainian family in my home (they are not squash related) for over 60 days now. I felt this was the right thing to do.
I have contacted Alena Ogonesyan from the Ukrainian Squash Federation and she has helped me to get in touch with members of the squash community.
The first person I talked to was Iana (pronounced Yana) Kovalska. Although I had some questions for her, I asked her to tell her story in the way she felt the most comfortable.
Here is her story.
Iana’s responses are in three parts:
Part 1: The Escape
Part 2: The Move
Part 3: Poland
We will publish the three sections on consecutive days.
Squash Mad: Hi Iana, please introduce yourself to our readers, and say how you are related to squash. These days we think about our lives before 24/02/2022 and after the Russian invasion. Have you stayed in Ukraine? Have you moved? If yes, where to exactly? Are you able to continue your work?
Iana: Hi Rosanna, thank you for getting in touch. Here is my story.
PART 1: The Escape
I lived in Kyiv with my children. I was working as a squash coach and a referee. My children went to school, my younger daughter was going to participate with her dance group in DWC (Dance World Cup) in June, in Spain.
But on 24/02/2022 my friend called me and said: “Iana, it’s begun”… It was supposed to be an ordinary day. My daughter was going to make nuggets at school, I had to coach…
I was upset that the call was so early, before the alarm clock. I thought: “Why has someone called so early when I could sleep more”… But after the information had been passed, everything turned around. We stayed at home and I was thinking what to do further.
The day before I had refuelled my car, also I had several packed bags with warm clothes and documents. But I was afraid of leaving Kyiv because the traffic was already very heavy and I was scared to be stuck in there.
I couldn’t understand the level of danger if I stayed or if I left. That’s why during the first day of war I was trying to find out what was happening, to which bomb shelter we would go if we hear the air raid alarm and bombs.
We (my children and I) sometimes went out with backpacks during the air raid alarm into the neighbouring underground car-park and when we were there we realised we had to move because it was too stressful for us and we were not ready to be underground.
We decided to leave Kyiv in the morning. Honestly, I couldn’t sleep for the first four days of war. Also, the week before war I slept badly because the days were tense with the anticipation of events.
There was an air raid alarm at night … but we didn’t go out to the underground car park, the children were sleeping and I was weighing the different options in my mind.
The following morning started with the air raid alarm and we spent that time in the underground car park. It wasn’t going to stop and we returned home to grab the last bags.
In the last minutes before we left to the bomb shelter my daughter was crying about our guinea pigs which I was going leave.
I comforted her and told her that my friend would feed them. But she was worried and when we popped back home I picked up a big cage with pets and went downstairs, because I couldn’t use a lift during the air alarm, threw the cage in the car and we started our escape.
The traffic was awful and we were driving slowly, crawling along at 3km an hour. We heard shots above us and we were scared. Sometimes we saw abandoned cars, also terrible accidents. We saw tanks and armoured vehicles passing by us on the road.
Maybe some people were in panic and drove into the oncoming traffic. It took us 16 hours to get to Kamyanets-Podilskyi instead of the usual six.
Thanks to my Oleksii, the father of my children, who told me a week before the war to keep a full tank and bags packed, I had fuel, because the queues at the petrol stations were for many hours already and it could have taken even a day to refuel a car. We arrived at our relatives at night. My relatives stayed in Kyiv.
Squash Mad: It’s difficult to comment. I know that Ukrainian Squash and Russian Squash were very friendly towards one another. On 24/02/2022 and after that date have you heard/received by email, privately or via phone any words of support from the Russian squash community? How the Ukrainian Squash Federation has been supporting players, coaches or referees in this war time?
Iana: I will answer by telling the story how I left Ukraine for safety.
Part 2 (The Move)
Pictures courtesy of Iana Kovalska