HAMMOND, Ind. — From half way around the world, the Ukrainian National wrestling team is now training in Northwest Indiana at Hammond Central High School.
Zahn Beleniuk, a Ukrainian wrestler, said it was about 4 or 5 a.m. on Feb. 24 when he heard Russian bombs dropping in Kyiv.
“We did not invade Russia,” said Beleniuk. “Russia came to us on our land and everyday they kill our children, destroy our infrastructure and do a lot of bad things in this war.”
Beleniuk won gold in Tokyo in 2020 at 191 pounds.
He is one of 16 Ukrainian National Team wrestlers and two coaches ordered out by President Volodymyr Zelensky to train for the world championships this September in Serbia. They are using the pool, track, fields and gymnasium at Hammond Central High School.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb met with the Ukrainian ambassador just two weeks after the invasion began and extended the offer to help in whatever way.
As welcoming as they say Hoosiers have been, and extremely proud they are to represent their country, the team would like to be in the fight at home.
As war wages on, no one ever knows who or where the Russian bombs will fall next. And so they do the best they can to focus on their mission as the battle back home sees no end in sight.
Oleksandr Chernetsky, 38, is a Olympic bronze medalist and also a soldier. He is the veteran of the squad.
His hometown of Mariupol has been pummeled with bombs targeting civilian structures like schools, hospitals, and homes throughout the city have been destroyed including his. People have died and been critically wounded.
His wife, son and daughter have fled west toward Poland. His brother-in-law died.
“My sister‘s husband is military. I am the same military and my sister‘s husband died for this war,” he said. “I see and feel him in my heart.”
No one on this team has not felt Putin’s war of aggression.
Anna Krysenko is the team’s translator and married to the head coach, Volodymyr Shatskykh.
His mom, dad, brother, and sister are part of the resistance, too. But his best friend is gone.
“Until it happened, nobody believes that it would happen because they used to say the Russians and Ukrainians are really close,” he said. “Now we see that they are our enemies.”
Occasionally, they head to the city and Ukrainian Village to the camaraderie of their fellow countrymen and women who are in Chicago. Those times are good for their hearts and souls while they train their bodies for the competition in September.
When that time is over, they will head back home to join the fight again in one form or another.
They say winning is what they’ll do the Russians will held accountable for war crimes.