‘Ukrainians were being killed, but Russian squash friends were only worried about being banned by the PSA’
By ROSANNA RADLINSKA-TYMA – Squash Mad Correspondent
Today we hear about Iana Kovalska’s time spent settling in a safer part of western Ukraine, and her decision to move on again, this time to Poland.
In Part One yesterday we learned how Iana Kovalska and her children fled Kyiv as the city came under attack following Russia’s illegal and murderous invasion of Ukraine.
Squash Mad: 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 has the Ukrainian Squash Federation been supporting players, coaches or referees in this war time?
Iana: I will answer by telling the story of how I left Ukraine for safety.
PART 2: The Move
Iana: We stayed in Kamyanets-Podilskyi for 15 days. We felt safer there. We didn’t hear the shots, but the air raid alarms, block posts, difficulty with fuel and many refugees as well as bad news around Ukraine stayed with us.
During those days I was getting many messages from my Facebook friends, especially squash friends. I was also keeping in touch with my Ukrainian friends.
Unfortunately, Russian squash friends turned out to be worried only about the sanctions which PSA made and their children, who wouldn’t be able to play PSA tournaments after a ban was imposed, as in many sports.
At the beginning. I tried to communicate with some but the main question from them was: “Why are you so angry and aggressive?”
In my case I wasn’t aggressive enough, maybe more emotional. For example, I had a chat on the Viber with a Russian guy who has lived and worked in Poland for many years and who helped with developing a refereeing programme in Ukraine.
He supports Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and murder so many innocent people. I asked about his opinion regarding the situation before the war and after the war has started…
Unfortunately, he didn’t say one word of regret. I’ve blocked him. But I know some brave Russian squash friends who really support Ukraine and expressed their regrets and shame.
While we lived in Kamyanets-Podilskyi I was thinking about what I can do for my children. I wanted a peaceful life for them and wanted to have an opportunity to do my job, because then I would be able to provide for us.
In my opinion, it’s the best that I could do for us and for Ukraine, too. I was searching where I could be doing it.
Our Ukrainian Federation, in spite of a place in which Alena Ogonesian turned out to be (near Chernigov cut off from the centre and communications under the Russian occupation), was trying to keep in touch with us and the world and helped with necessary letters. I sent these to the ESF and they forwarded them further.
The interesting twist was about to happen for me. My friend, who escaped with children to the Kamyanets, also offered me the opportunity to move to Bielsko-Biała in Poland to stay with them.
With the help of mutual friends, I contacted the owner of a squash club (Enjoy Squash in Bielsko-Biała, a host to the World Juniors in 2016) who said to me: “Iana, you can come and I will help you as much as I can”.
However, my friend, before arriving, decided to stay in Ukraine. I am grateful to her for the idea because I didn’t even consider that city. I took my children, we left our pets with our relatives, and we headed for Poland.
Again, the trip was hard. We spent 10 hours trying to get across the border. But we finally did it. I am really grateful to those friends who called Maciej Kliś and told him about me.
He is an amazing person, as well as all the squash people whom I met in the club who are incredible and supportive. They accepted me in their squash family and they’ve been helping me since then and they are still helping!!!
All this story with Bielsko-Biała I guess is a wonder. It led to an amazing extra benefit, allowing my mum to come and continue her cancer treatment.
She couldn’t finish her chemotherapy in Kyiv because of the war. This is impossible now in Kyiv. Moreover, it turned out that my new accommodation is near the cancer hospital. It’s a wonder, isn’t it?
Squash Mad: I am impressed with what you’ve done and I am proud of Maciek as well. I know the club, so I know you are in good hands.
Some extra questions: You had been nominated to referee at the European Team Championship divisions one, two and three in Eindhoven.
What did it mean to you to see the Ukrainian men’s team being promoted to division two? What do you think about banning Russian squash players from international competitions by all squash bodies?
What are your plans, although I understand that it is difficult to plan long-term, but at least you can do some short-term planning?
Iana: Here goes another story, which I will call Poland.
Tomorrow: Part 3 (Poland)
Pictures courtesy of Iana Kovalska