Yaroslava Mahuchikh is the world champion in indoor high jump.
She is also currently a refugee after fleeing Ukraine to Germany where she settled and trained for the athletics season.
On the occasion ofOlympic Day 2022 of June 23, whose subject is #MoveForPeacethe Dnipro native spoke to Olympics.com in an exclusive interview about trying to promote peace in her country through sport.
“Be kinder to everyone because sport unites, sport helps and athletes help each other,” Mahuchikh said.
“At the Olympics everyone is united. The Olympic Village brings together people from all countries. Without a doubt, the Olympics unite people. They have always done it, they do it now and they will do it in the future,” he added.
Ukrainian athletes fled to train
Mahuchikh’s triumph at the 2022 Indoor World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, came three weeks after the attack on his country.
The invasion interrupted the training of the Olympic bronze medal. “It was very difficult, we first moved to Khmelnytskyi,” Mahuchikh explained about the first days after February 24, when the world changed for her and her Ukrainian colleagues.
“There was the training camp of our small team that would go to the World Cup (on the indoor track). Halfway through the trip we were told to move to the border.
“Our trip lasted three days. In the end we arrived in Serbia and started training without sirens and without explosions.”
Mahuchikh knew he would not return home for a while: “The hardest moment was saying goodbye to my family, my father,” he recalled.
“But then you realize that you have to compete, act for your country internationally, prove that Ukraine is still there.”
It was not an easy journey for the jumper, both for the time it took and for the thoughts that went through her head. She herself admits that she has wondered about many things during the long journey away from danger.
“I had a lot of ideas about why I was leaving,” Mahuchikh said. “I just started distributing humanitarian aid. I realized that there were a lot of volunteers in Dnipro, because it was a relatively safe region (back then). Our city was confronted and we helped each other a lot.”
“And I thought why I had to go to the World Cup and I would throw everything in the wind. I realized that this is my job. This is my field, and I have to defend my country in my field, and I went that the people who do their work help their country, each in its own field. “
A family apart
Since leaving Ukraine for the Ndoor World Championships in March, Mahuchikh has never returned home. This season he competed on the Diamond League circuit, but based in Erlangen, Germany, with the help of his sponsors.
“They helped us and provided us with apartments,” he said. “My mother, my sister and her daughter went there.”
Ukraine also paid tribute to the various international and national sports federations, which helped their country’s athletes find new training spaces during the war and welcomed them with open arms.
But, he reiterated, “my home was and still is in Ukraine, in the Dnipro, my city, my place.”
Dnipro, in central-eastern Ukraine, is now close to the fronts of the conflict. “A lot of people stayed at home in Dnipro,” Mahuchikh explained. “Some went to Poland
“Of course everyone wants to go home. I recently talked to my sister. I told her I wanted to go home, go back to normal life, live without sirens.
“You read the stories of those returning from Poland. You’d like to do that, but you’re still not sure because even now the missiles have exploded in my city.”
Mahuchikh brought “smiles and joy” to Ukraine
Belgrade’s triumph had a very welcome consequence: the attention aroused by a world champion and the many opportunities to talk about the situation at home. In addition, he had the advantage of giving a boost to the morale of his countrymen.
“In the face of all the bad news, people finally got the good news and were able to smile. And it was I who got it, because people thanked me for bringing smiles and joy,” Mahuchikh recalled. “After the race I attended the press conferences and before that I moved to the mixed zone. Of course, as a winner you get more media attention than a silver or bronze medal. That was an extra motivation.
“You know you can get a result in the races and then talk to the journalists, and they will publish you. After the event in Serbia, I had a lot of requests for interviews. I can help with my sports results, because they give me the opportunity to talk to the media “.
“I want people to know that we are a very strong country, that it has gone through many vicissitudes in history and that it has suffered a lot. But I know we are strong and we will survive everything. We just have to believe in ourselves.”
Above all, Mahuchikh remains convinced that sport can foster peace, both through raising awareness about the situation in Ukraine and other conflict zones, and simply by uniting people.
“Sport shows, in all aspects of life, the positive traits of men and women: their strong character, their willingness to go all the way, no matter what.”
“The Olympics, for me, unite all countries. The Olympics help the world. They are always broadcast in all countries and even those who are not fans of the sport watch the Olympics. It’s something amazing “.