Ukrainian Voices

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I wanted to write an article about the war in Ukraine. There will undoubtedly be people who will skip reading the article to run to the comments and say "no politics on a chess website!" To some extent, this article was written for them. You have my word that a good faith attempt was made to remove "politics" from this article, a difficult task given how completely meaningless that word is. There will be no mention of the causes of the war or blame assigned to individual politicians involved in it. No argument will be made about whose fault the situation is or what the correct solution would be.

Seriously! It's perfectly safe to read this article, none of your political beliefs will be questioned directly. Instead, we will just hear the voices of individual Ukrainians and what they're going through right now. What it's like to live in a country that is being invaded, to not be safe, to worry about your friends and family.

I have also proactively answered the question that always arrives to any chess organization that dares to comment on anything other than the game itself; "What does this have to do with chess?" All of the people quoted here are chess players, and the disruption of their chess activities will be one of the points of discussion. Among others, there is a strong GM who is suddenly unable to travel to tournaments, a youth chess coach no longer able to teach her students, and a young player who is suddenly finding lots of time to practice with his school commitments canceled indefinitely.

GM Mikhail Golubev

I was sleeping on the 24th when at approximately 7am a close relative called and told me that Putin announced the war and Russia's attack has begun. As late as the evening before I preserved some hopes that there would be no massive attack from Russia.

My home city Odessa is where my wife Lyuda and I decided to remain. We never seriously considered leaving. Until recently, our area was attacked less intensively than many other Ukrainian cities. Maybe the worst is yet to come, who knows. We feel as safe as can be expected in Odessa, and as of March 11th we still have water, electricity and internet. I'm very busy, continuing my regular chess work. (yes!) I'm also helping our recently formed Territorial Defense Forces in any way I can.

I saw our Ukrainian army, including tanks, on our streets near the city centre. It's always good to see them. I survived a stroke in 2019, it left me with a problem with walking more than 1 km. In theory, I could still be used as a martyr, you know, the man who blows himself up. It's not in my plans, for sure, but who knows how I'll feel if the Russians eventually manage to get here. It will be hell.

I have many close relatives in Odessa, including, in particular, two brothers and two sisters. Approximately half of my close relatives left Odessa for other European countries. I worry for those who left and for those who remain as well. I'm trying to help, I asked my European chess colleagues to support my relatives with children who have left for Europe. I'm very grateful to them.

Right now I'm motivated to be helpful to my country and to my relatives. Nobody here can be sure what will happen on the next day, or in a week. Like in chess, there are variations, many of them, including the most disastrous scenarios. I have hope that Ukraine and the people close to me will survive this. If we as a country/state have no choice but to defeat Russia militarily, let's do it.

Odessa, Ukraine

Sergey Sheluhin, Youth Chess Coach

I had been planning to start a chess club in my village for several months. In a neighboring village I'd lead a club of about 20 people, and in March I planned to open a club in another town of 30 children and 15 adults. The war put an end to all that.

From the very beginning we organized patrols, set up checkpoints, made sure the bomb shelters were well stocked, took in refugees, provided humanitarian aid. There was no time for rest! Once the peaceful life was firmly behind us and everyone became accustomed to the difficult conditions of war, I thought for a long time whether it was a good idea to try and teach chess to children again. I decided the answer was yes. We must educate our children, they have the right to childhood games, sports, and learning. They can turn their minds to something positive and exciting.

I arranged the first lesson with the help of my youngest son, only one kid showed up. Of course I did the lesson anyway, but I was filled with doubts. Is this really a good idea right now? But again firmly, I felt, yes! It is necessary! If there is one student we will be a chess club with one student. As I approached the second class I saw a big group of children gathering there! The second lesson had 12 students! My heart leaped. I knew I'd made the right choice.

During the lesson I saw how the children's eyes grew, filled with childlike enthusiasm. In the bomb shelter where we meet, It is not very warm or bright. Little frozen hands shuffle knights and bishops around, trying to remember how to castle the king and in which direction to do it! Of course I have not forgotten my clubs from before, I write to them sometimes, I give them chess homework. They are extraordinary and I miss them.

Sergey teaches his students.

The second, and more successful chess lesson.

GM Kirill Shevchenko

We woke up at 4am on February 24th hearing bombs going off. Quickly, we packed up our clothes and went to a shelter. We spent the whole day watching the news. The next day we decided to get out of Kiev. It was a tough decision, but when a rocket hit about 500 meters from the house we knew we had to go.

My grandmother and grandfather are still in Kyiv, we worry about them a lot and check on them every few hours. We try to keep our heads down and be cold blooded in such situations but it's very difficult. If the war goes on for a long, I don't know what we'll do, because we can't leave the country

(EDITORS NOTE: Ukraine recently passed a law preventing men aged 18-60 from leaving the country)

Some stores are still open, but big supermarkets are low on items like bread and cheese. In big cities such as Mykolaiv, Mariupol, and Kharkiv there has been no electricity for 5 days. people have problems with buying things they need like medicine. It will be a humanitarian catastrophe.

In some cities it is impossible not only to leave the house but also impossible to stay in the house because you could be hit by shelling either way. We have seen many military men who are fighting the Russians and do not allow them to pass. An hour ago in Mariupol, tanks and an air bomb hit a maternity hospital, fortunately nobody was killed but how are the women going to give birth?

Kyiv, right now, not far from home.
Please share it everywhere!!!!! It's not fake photos,it is happening right now! ретвит пожалуйста!
--- Kirill Shevchenko (@Chesser_22) February 25, 2022

GM Ruslan Ponomariov

For the last 10 years I've been living in Spain, so in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and started the hybrid war in Donbas I was relatively safe. To be honest, despite all the signals in mass media, I still couldn't believe that Russia started a full invasion of Ukraine. For the first week, I was so shocked and deeply depressed that it was hard to focus on anything.

My parents and my sister were in Kyiv. On March 3rd they decided to evacuate, despite my father wanting to stay in his home until the last moment. With some adventures, they passed the border with Hungary, and on March 5th they safely arrived in Bilbao from Budapest. Now I am trying to help them to adapt to the new environment. I am also in contact with the Ukrainian community here in the Basque country. There are people trying to collect humanitarian help and send it to the Polish border with Ukraine. Many women and children fleeing the war are arriving in Spain. No one knows when this war will end and the situation could become even worse. I hope that there won't be another disaster like Chernobyl or nuclear war. I don't think they will, but on the other hand, who would have expected that all the things that have happened would have?

Oksana Vasylevych, Youth Chess Coach

Our team organized the second main tournament of a big series of chess competitions in Ukraine, the "Grand Prix 64" on February 18-20th. Already then the adults were talking about the rumors of an impending war. Nobody could believe that it would really happen. On Monday the 21st, after the tournament I was crying half the day. I closed my eyes, and thought of the happy children's faces on our chess holiday. I couldn't understand how anyone would make these children cry instead of smile. All of these talented kids must grow up and enjoy their lives! Something inside told me that something terrible will happen soon, the tension was breaking me apart.

We awoke in the early morning of the 24th to explosions in Kyiv's sky. We didn't understand what was happening. "War! Russia has attacked Kyiv!" was what we heard from the windows. It's a terrible feeling when the sky seems to break above you. Panicked people were crying in the streets, running around looking for bomb shelters. We slept in the shelters all together, kids, animals, everybody, under the siren sounds. Our Life underground had begun.

I was lucky: I got out of Kyiv to a safe place on the 3rd day of war. It still feels like a dream. We are all crying and crying. It's so painful. All of the people work together, it feels like one organism, helping each other, saving each other, fighting together. We are sure we're going to win!

Yuriy Petrenko

The troops bombed the school where our children studied. My children have lost their ability to go to school and talk to their friends and classmates. They shudder at the sound of low-flying warplanes and the sound of bombs and missiles. My daughters love chess, one of them is a double champion of Ukraine in her age category, a 15-time champion of the Zhytomyr region. It is impossible to live in the community and be free from it.

What's left of the school that Yuriy's daughter used to attend.

A 14-year-old chess player in Ukraine.

The day of the invasion was a normal day. I woke up at 4 am to do my homework and finished around 5. I took a break and saw a live stream about Putin and the "Military operation in Donbas." Things were worse than I imagined. I got a phone call from my older sister and brother who were in Kyiv that day, they were hearing explosions all around them. I knew that the war had begun. Luckily they managed to escape home alongside some other people who stayed in our house for a few days. I watched the news and I didn't feel so sad about everything, Ukraine is defending itself very well.

My father was conscripted into the defense force on invasion day. He was driving around with medicine, food and weapons for soldiers. Fortunately, his conscription was canceled because of his eye problems. My parents are feeling ok, my mother is the only one of them who can go abroad, but she is feeling ok, and is staying here.

It's hard to buy food because a lot of shops are empty but we can still find enough and have a lot stored up in the house. The sirens go off constantly and we need to run to hide in basements. I'm stuck at home and have a lot of free time so I solve a lot of chess puzzles. My chess level is not super strong, I had 2500 rapid, 2450 blitz on lichess. I am solving a lot of puzzles in a book called "The Woodpecker method." I can finish it faster than some GMs! I've solved about 560 puzzles!

Sergii Trokhymyshyn, ex-president of the Zhytomyr Chess Federation

I decided to stay in Ukraine, in my native city of Zhytomyr, despite the war and being under constant fire. A shell landed on school 25, 200 meters from where I work. I ran to the ruins, I was among the first to enter the school to check whether any people were still there. I saw what a direct hit from the shell looked like up close. It was a powerful shell, it damaged every floor. The destruction even reached the basement.

From the first day I decided to take an active part in the volunteer work for our city. This became a kind of psychological relaxation for me. When you do something for 12 hours a day, you don't have time to worry or read the news. Nevertheless, the atmosphere is very oppressive, because the pressure is always off the scale.

As for chess, my concentration is completely lost. I can't play more than 2-3 games in a row. My brain is occupied by other things, my head is turned on, but not working properly. It's very hard for me to focus on anything; walking, reading books, and meditation are on the back burner right now. When I am at home I constantly listen to the sounds in the sky, waiting for a rocket to hit.

If you're interested in helping out, consider donating to one of the organizations doing humaniatrian aid in Ukraine such as ICRCor UNHCR.

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