Team Ukraine: preparing for a new season against all odds

The preparations of the national teams for the new season 2022/2023 are in full swing. But no team faces a greater challenge that the Ukrainian athletes, who have to solve many different problems related to the participation of the squad in international competitions.

Six biathletes of the national team: Dmytro Pidruchnyi, Artem Pryma, Bogdan Tsymbal, Anton Dudchenko, Taras Lesiuk, Denys Nasyko, and Darya Blashko, who also works with her male teammates, are having their second training camp in Oberhof. The first camp was held in Ukrainian Sianky (Lviv region), where the men’s head coach Juraj Sanitra managed to gather the main team: “For me, first of all, it was important to look into the eyes of my athletes, to understand how they look at the situation and what they think."

Sanitra, who has been working with the Ukrainian team for 6 years, recalls how unexpectedly the last season was interrupted after Beijing: “When everyone went home after the Olympics on February 21, no one thought that we would not go to the last trimester of the World Cup. Back then we already had planned on how to start working for the next Olympic cycle. But that all changed on February 24, when Russia's aggression against Ukraine began."

The coach recalls: "In those days there was all sorts of information and phone conversations, I was very worried about all the athletes and coaches, as well as fans, which there are so many in Ukraine. I helped in any way I could. For five weeks, my athlete's family lived at my house... This is a very difficult time, and I thought for a long time about whether to continue working or not. I talked to my family and realised that I can’t leave my athletes, Ukrainian biathlon, and colleagues at a time when they need help.”

Sanitra does not know what will happen tomorrow, but he is sure that biathlon has existed and will exist in Ukraine, so he continues to work persistently.

In order to come to Germany for a training camp, it was necessary to solve one main issue: obtaining permission that would allow biathletes to leave Ukraine. The country is at war and many of the athletes were in service either in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) or in the National Guard: “We were constantly in touch and together we thought about how to work further, - the coach says. I know that almost right after Beijing, the guys were called up to perform army tasks.

Of course, you can feel a shortage in training, but I can see in their eyes that they are ready to do the hardest training work to be well prepared. After all, this is their opportunity to show that Ukraine is a strong country and can have its own position in the world. And sport is a good form of presenting your country in the world.”

When Sanitra decided to work with the Ukrainian team, first he thought about the moral state of his athletes; he worried that some personal problems might interfere because everyone has families and relatives in Ukraine, and no one knows what can happen at any moment. The main task he faces today is to fill in the gaps in the training of all team members who have not had the opportunity to train for almost two months: “Ukrainian top biathletes are now in different stages of preparation for the season. We did a very good job in terms of volume and quantity in the previous Olympic cycle. And I think that we will manage to do everything if we work according to the programme that we have for the summer period; it will help to raise the guys to a good level.”

The captain of the Ukrainian national team, Dmytro Pidruchnyi, who served in the National Guard almost from the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, is also concerned about his shape: “Once a week I was allowed to go home, and I was running so that at least for an hour my heart and muscles would remember what a load is. I also got sick with covid, so I started to train only in mid-May, and the first training sessions were very difficult. However, step by step, we are now trying to restore the form to return to the previous level. I feel that my shape is a month or month and a half “behind” from the one I usually had during this period. But I have already begun to feel the rhythm and I’m starting to catch up on the guys."

Pidruchnyi admits that the situation in Ukraine affects him a lot: "Of course, everything that happens at home cannot but affect the mood and mindset; it is difficult to separate yourself from the country. You know there is a war going on and people are dying, that the AFU stands as a wall, giving us the opportunity to train here as well. But you go to training and think about what you need to do now, you focus all your attention here”.

Artem Pryma, for whom the last season ended early and unexpectedly, was on service in the AFU during this time: “Three days after our return home from the Olympics, the war began and there could no longer be any training. I tried to somehow keep in shape, but I was in my military unit. And I was allowed to go to the first training camp already from there.”

In Chernihiv, Pryma's hometown, the ski training center was destroyed and there was practically nothing left: “It's hard to say how I will train between the camps. You can run on the streets, train in the gym, but it is impossible to roller skis or shoot. When I was at home, the workers of the center and coaches tried to clear and prepare at least 1-1.5 km of the track so that the children could somehow train as they can’t run in the forest, because of unexploded shells and mines which could be anywhere. The equipment that was in the center completely burned down; the kids and young athletes, who kept absolutely everything there, suffered most in this regard. As for myself, at that time, I had practically nothing there, so my rifle and most of the skis were not damaged.”

Pryma admits that he didn’t think about the next season at all: “I thought about the need to protect the country, my family. All thoughts were only about this. For two and a half months I was in my unit in AFU. But it turns out that today everyone should do what they can do best. I was told that my job is to represent my country on the world sports arena. I thought about it and agreed. I will try to defend the honour of Ukraine with my results.” And Pryma, like other Ukrainian biathletes, will have an opportunity to do so already at the end of August at the Summer World Championships in Ruhpolding (GER), in which the team will take part.

Even though the Ukrainian national team has not specifically prepared for the SBWCH for several years, according to the head coach of the men's team, this year the plans have changed, and they want to compete in Ruhpolding with the strongest line-up. Sanitra is grateful to many organisations and people who are doing everything they can to make this happen.

“All this hard work that we do, - says Sanitra, - we dedicate this to our fans and all citizens of the country so that in such a difficult time they can find some joy in the success of Ukrainian biathletes, because biathlon is one of the most popular sports in Ukraine. I want people to look at the representatives of their country and be happy for their success.”

Photos: IBU Photopool, Mariya Osolodkina

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