On February 24, Ukrainian slalom kayaker Viktoriia Dobrotvorska was woken by the sound of her phone going crazy, as news broke that her country was under attack from Russian forces.
Dobrotvorska was safe in neighboring Poland at a canoe slalom training camp. But her five-year-old daughter, her husband and her parents were back in Ukraine.
“I opened my phone and started to read the terrible news, that Russia had attacked Ukraine with a lot of bombs, and at that moment everything changed,” Dobrotvorska said in an interview with the International Canoe Federation (ICF). “I panicked. I went to my coach and asked him to take me to the border, ‘I don’t care how, you should take me to the border. I will pass the border, I will go home….’”
After a series of stressful phone calls the 29-year-old organized to travel to Lviv, a Ukrainian city just 70 kilometers from the Polish border, where she would meet her husband, her daughter and her mother. After an emotional reunion, the challenge of getting back to Poland and to safety began. For 24 hours Dobrotvorska and her family slept at the Lviv railway station, hoping a train would eventually take them away from the bombs and the destruction.
The Polish canoeing community is providing accommodation, meals and training facilities for a group of displaced athletes, including Dobrotvorska.
“We are really grateful, because they said we could stay as long as we wanted, and they provided food, they’ve let us train for free. And now we are still here,” Dobrotvorska said.
The ICF has banned all Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from all ICF events, meetings, committees and forums, and has also stripped Russia of the three events scheduled to be held there in 2022.
The ICF has also set up a Go Fund Me account to raise money for Ukrainian athletes, coaches and their families caught up in this horrific attack. Funds will go towards accommodation, food and other expenses to enable them to continue during this period. All remaining funds will be given directly to the Ukrainian Canoe Federation to assist with resuming their activities.