Faces of Ukraine

Logo Gesichter der Ukraine3

Zlata Tkachenko

The talented swimmer reunites with the national team in Wolfenbüttel

Zlata – The talented swimmer reunites with the national team in Wolfenbüttel

Zlata Tkachenko was planning to go to her regular training session in the morning. The 15-year-old is a top athlete and member of the Ukraine national swimming team. She has set her alarm for an early hour, but on February 24th, she wakes up even earlier from the sound of an explosion.

War has come to her hometown of Dnipro. Her father explains to her what the loud noise, the missiles, and the detonations mean for them.

Training is not an option anymore. The swimming pools in Dnipro are all closed. Participating in the national swimming championships, which were scheduled to start on March 8th in Kharkiv, is also out of the question because the city in north-eastern Ukraine is under heavy attack.

There’s no way any training, let alone championships can take place here.

Conditions in the west of the country are much better. Her family reacts quickly. The parents and their two daughters drive to Ivano-Frankivsk. The town is more than 900 kilometres from Dnipro and close to the Hungarian border. They arrive only three days after the outbreak of war. There’s an open swimming-pool there.

Zlata is able to train again.

She stays for one week before one of the Ukrainian coaches calls her on the phone: there are training options in Debrecen in Hungary. Zlata, a team-mate, and a coach set out for Hungary. They spend the whole day in the car. They avoid main roads for fear of becoming an easy target for bombs.

She stays in Hungary until May 23rd. She can even take part in online lessons offered by her school at home. It brings back a degree of normality to her life amid the drastic changes she’s had to go through. Zlata is a 9th grader at a private school in Dnipro. They were preparing for end-of-term exams, which she won’t be able to take. In war times, schools are allowed to make exceptions, however. “The government has announced that we can take different exams in grade eleven”, she explains.

Training conditions are good in Debrecen, but after a while she runs into difficulties with one of the coaches.

She wants to leave again. Zlata and two of her team-mates decide to travel to Wolfenbüttel, where part of the national team has meanwhile found a temporary home.

She only packs some basic necessities in a large rucksack and a bag.

They make their way to the train station at 3 o’clock in the middle of the night. The teenagers can’t find a taxi, which means they have to walk. They only have half an hour to cover the distance of three kilometres, but they manage to get there in time and travel to Vienna via Hungary. In Vienna, volunteers provide them with train tickets to Göttingen in Germany, where her coach is already awaiting their arrival.

The only way to talk to her parents is on the phone or on the internet. Her father has to stay in Ukraine. Her mother came to visit her for two days in Debrecen, before she had to return to Dnipro again.

She misses her parents, the student says.

But her parents have to work in Dnipro. She has scaled down her news consumption regarding the war. She limits herself to 15 minutes a day. That must be enough.