‘Such extraordinary kindness from so many people helped me to focus on something positive in life after escaping from Kyiv’
By ROSANNA RADLINSKA-TYMA – Squash Mad Correspondent
In the first two articles, Iana Kovalska told us all about the stressful experience of escaping from Kyiv with her two children when Russian bombs landed on the city.
In the third part of this interview, she reveals the kindness of so many squash friends who made them so welcome in Poland, and enabled her to continue her refereeing experience at the European Team Championships.
Squash Mad: 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 are your plans, although I understand that it is difficult to plan long-term, but at least you can do some short-term planning?
What did it mean to you to see the Ukrainian men team being promoted to division two?
What do you think about banning Russian squash players from international competitions by all Squash Bodies?
Finally, what are your plans? 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 have called Poland.
PART 3: Poland
I was nominated to be a referee at the recent European Team Championships (Division Three) in Lubljana in April and Divisions One and Two in Eindhoven from April 27 to May 1. It was amazing news especially after the lockdown.
After the beginning of war everything seemed impossible. The focus and the values were changed. But for me it was the closest goals that I needed to reach. That was helping me to do some necessary steps to approach my goals every day.
It was a question of could I travel or not and also the question about whether the Ukrainian national men, women and juniors teams would be able to participate. We all were overcoming different difficulties for reaching that stage.
The issues were with logistics, documents, training, playing suits, equipment, settling down in new places, and perhaps most importantly, finding schools for those of us with children.
The Ukrainian Federation have solved many issues as well. When I went to officiate I knew I could keep my focus on the refereeing because my mom had arrived safely in Poland, where she could continue her cancer treatment, and the children were settled into school.
When I met my Ukrainian team and friends it was a moment of incredible pride and honour to represent Ukraine at such a tough time.
The results of our team in the third division showed that the whole struggle did not go in vain! We all felt incredible support from all the teams.
From the first day of Putin’s war, we all (Ukrainian people) had felt an enormous pain for our country, the victims, the destroyed livelihoods, and so much suffering.
Squash helped me to focus on something positive and receiving so much kindness from our hosts in Bielsko-Biała felt extraordinary.
At the European Team Championship in Eindhoven, the Ukrainian team was represented by the youngest participants.
They couldn’t compete with their more experienced opponents, but the whole tournament was a good experience for them and they delivered some amazing results.
I gathered some good experience myself and some amazing emotions were expressed by my friends, along with three appraisals from the world referees.
Unfortunately, my friend and Ukrainian referee Sergey Dahovnik, who was also nominated to referee in the European Championship, was unable to come.
I feel incredible gratitude to the Polish government for their help and support. I am so grateful to the Polish people, squash friends, and especially Maciej Kliś, Iga Łaba, Paweł, Piotr, Krzysztof Strykowski, Szymon Papierkowski and Agnieszka, Mateusz Godzic, Marcin Paszek, Tomasz Czana, Łukasz, Bartłomiej and so many other Polish people. Thanks, also, to Roman Suire from France for bringing a gift of some Harrow rackets!
In the middle of May, during the European Under-17 and Under-15 Championships, again in Eindhoven, the Under-17 Ukrainian team came third to take the bronze medal. I wasn’t refereeing there but it was a wonderful sight.
It was nice to have some real squash to think about instead of the politics, but I think that the ban on Russian squash players is justified. It is the least discomfort they can feel compared to the tragedy of my nation and our athletes.
My future plans are not very clear, but the very short-term plans are for my mum to get cleared of cancer and for Ukraine to be victorious in this war.
We still have a place to live in Kyiv although our street was bombed. My block of flats, where I lived, doesn’t have glass in the windows due to the blast wave, but is still standing.
Squash Mad: I wish you all but success and a safe return to Ukraine to continue the amazing job you have been doing. Congratulations on the recent squash success of the Ukrainian men and the Under-17 teams! Glory to Ukraine!
Iana: Thank you, Rosanna.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you to Iana for sharing such an incredibly moving story, and everyone in squash will wish her and her family nothing but safety and success in the future.
Pictures courtesy of Iana Kovalska