Maria Dolgopolova (UKR) skates during the 2021 ISU World Cup Short Track in Debrecen (HUN) @International Skating Union (ISU)
Maria Dolgopolova (UKR) has never been more thankful to be a Short Track Speed Skater. Being on the ice is the only time the Ukrainian can quieten her mind, and even then the peace is fleeting.
“Training is helping to distract me a little bit,” Dolgopolova said from her new, temporary base in Bialystok (POL). “All my thoughts are with my family and friends of course but it is helping me not to think about this.”
Dolgopolova fled her home city of Kharkiv (UKR) on March 2nd, her 25th birthday, when a Russian shell fell not far from her apartment block. She, her mother, her sister and the family cat started a two-week journey, criss-crossing Ukraine in an attempt to find somewhere safe.
“It was more hard mentally. I don’t know for how long I am leaving my home,” Dolgopolova said. “The road was pretty hard because of the roadblocks, the soldiers, but we reached the other cities safe.”
After more than 3000km the three Dolgopolovas ended up in the warm embrace of Bialystok (POL). They are now living in student accommodation, deeply thankful for their safety but with their thoughts constantly turning back towards home.
“It is getting better right now but the first days when I was here, it was very hard to sleep,” Dolgopolova said. “I went to bed at like 12 or 1am and I woke up at 4am or 5am because of the thoughts in my head.”
“I have a lot of guy-friends, men (still in Ukraine) because they cannot leave the country of course. It’s hard to know that they are in Ukraine and they are in danger. I pray for them every day.”
Her teammates and coach Vitaly Sivak are among those still in Ukraine, strung out across Kharkiv, Kyiv and elsewhere.
“It’s hard without him (Sivak) but I hope I will see him soon,” said Dolgopolova, who has been competing on the world stage for Ukraine since the 2011/12 season, including at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games. “I hope the ministry of sports can do it for my coach and male athletes to cross the border and hopefully I will see them soon.”
As Dolgopolova points out, many athletes from a range of sports are either enlisting in the Ukraine army or helping out the forces and the people in other ways.
“I think they are the pure definition of brave Ukrainian men and women,” Dolgopolova said.
She is hopeful she can continue to do what she can by her representing her country on the international stage and sharing her message with as wide an audience as possible.
“I will show Ukrainian soul and compete under the Ukrainian flag,” she said of her hope that she will make it to April’s ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Montreal, Canada. “It is an honor for me and I will be very proud and happy.”
Maria Dolgopolova (UKR) performs in the Ladies 500m ranking finals during the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020 in Debrecen (HUN) @International Skating Union (ISU)
Feeling “good physically” if not mentally, Dolgopolova is hoping she might even better her best-ever World Championships individual finish of 24th in the 1500m in 2021. The fact that the Bialystok club has been so welcoming is certainly helping, as is her feeling that the “world is with” her. It is a sensation reinforced by a constant deluge of messages from Short Track Speed Skaters and fans alike.
But in truth, her wishes for the next few weeks have nothing to do with skating.
“I just hope the war will end soon and I can come back and unite with my friends and family,” Dolgopolova said.