Valeriya Osipova comes to Liverpool as a veteran and leader of a young Ukrainian team after teammates Diana Varinska and Anastasia Bakhinska retired this year. Despite the difficulties they faced this year, the Ukrainians managed to qualify for the World Cup with a full squad and hope for a good competition.
Osipova spent several months as a refugee abroad and spoke about being forced to leave Ukraine at the beginning of the war, leaving her family behind:
“I went with the evacuation train. It was crazy, people were crazy. When people panic, they don’t think about their actions. Mothers lost their children, men pushed old women. People turned into panicked animals. It was a terrible sight. It was extremely stressful for me. I couldn’t get on the train because literally everyone was getting on the train, all the people with their cats, dogs, rats, parrots, newborn babies, grandmothers… Men were trying to get on too. It was just a nightmare in real life, like in all those disaster movies.”
“When I boarded that evacuation train, I was alone, without my parents, without anyone. My mother said that she will stay with my father in Kiev and will not leave him. My brother stayed because he was of military age. I went to Lviv and then queued like everyone else at the Przemyśl border, which is a small town on the Ukrainian-Polish border. My godfather lives in Warsaw, so I came to him. I stayed there for three days, and then a physiotherapist I know, Ruslan Vladimirovich, basically saved me because he called me and said, “Lera, if you’re in trouble, you can come to Cottbus, we’ll host you. They accepted me, I stayed in their apartment for a month, they helped me with everything, I am incredibly grateful to them, then they really saved me. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have left gymnastics because I didn’t have a place to train and I didn’t know where to go.”
Osipova returned to Kyiv for training before the national championships and the world championships. Rocket attacks on the city started again during the race:
“The preparation for the championship was really difficult, the constant sirens, the constant booms, it was all very stressful. But we had to adapt to everything, get used to it, sometimes ignore it and continue training even though everyone knew it was dangerous. On the last day of the Ukrainian championship, we held the beam and floor finals. Unfortunately, they had to be canceled because [of the rockets] and the Kyiv power plant was hit, so the blackout began. “Yesterday, my mother called me and said that I need a candle, because there are no candles in the shops, there is no light.”
Osipova knew that the situation in Kiev was still dangerous, but it was important for her to return home:
“I was returning home. I know my brother, father and mother are there, they all told me what happened. Of course, I was worried about all the attacks. But in general, I imagined what it was like in my head, so it was nothing new to me. Because every morning when you wake up, you turn on your phone, open Telegram channels, read all the news, how is Kyiv… Actually, I’m from Zaporizhzhya*. My grandparents are there, they are old, they don’t want to go and they can’t go anyway. The entire region outside the city was occupied. It’s very difficult because you’re always there in your head.”
While abroad, Osipova stayed in Cottbus, where Igor Radivilov also found refuge. Angelina Radivilova is Osipova’s personal trainer and helped her recover after leaving gymnastics at the beginning of the war:
“I trained abroad with Angelina Radivilova, she is now my coach. We are getting along well. He would adapt to my needs because when the war started I was living in a subway station and for the next two or three weeks we lived in a basement. Obviously, I got out of shape and then I had to build up in small steps, slowly progress, so I had to start from the beginning. You know, the basics, the simplest things, conditioning, endurance training, it was like starting all over again.”
Radivilova stayed in Kiev with the junior team and did not go to Liverpool with Osipova. Although Osipova knows it will be difficult to maintain her training schedule, she plans to return to Kyiv after the World Championships:
“We are returning to Ukraine. I don’t know how it will be, I hope that the situation with electricity and heating will improve. My trainer sent me a picture – it’s dark outside at 5pm and the gym is completely dark. “I guess because there is no electricity anywhere, they went inside and warmed up a bit.”
Along with power outages, another challenge is getting to the races. Since flights stopped on the first day of the war, gymnasts usually went to neighboring countries by train or bus. Before the World Cup, the team traveled to Warsaw to apply for UK visas, then spent 10 days in Gdansk for a training camp, then returned to Warsaw and flew to Liverpool:
“Traveling to the races is a whole different story because it’s really hard. If we weren’t in Gdansk for 10 days of training, it would have taken us a lot of time. [to get to Worlds]. Because we went from Kiev to Chelm, then we had to transfer to a train to Warsaw, and then board a plane in Warsaw. The journey from Kiev to Chelm takes all night or all day if there is no night train. For example, when I went to the Bundesliga competition, it took me 33 hours to go from Ukraine to Germany, imagine that.”
*The city of Zaporozhye is the capital of the Zaporozhye region. Currently, most of the region is occupied by Russia. The city of Zaporizhzhya is under the control of Ukraine and is often subjected to rocket fire.