Young Ukrainian disability swimmers stuck in Turkey on training trip

The Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred while Nikita Dudchenko and his teammates were training abroad.

Max McLean
Thursday 03 March 2022 14:16
Ukrainian swimmer Nikita Dudchenko ( back row, second left) is stranded in Turkey with his teammates and their coach (Natalia Samorodina/PA)
Ukrainian swimmer Nikita Dudchenko ( back row, second left) is stranded in Turkey with his teammates and their coach (Natalia Samorodina/PA)

A GoFundMe page has raised more than £2,500 to support a group of young disability swimmers from Ukraine who are stranded in Turkey.

Yana Protsenko, from Aldershot, Hampshire, created the appeal to provide food for her nephew, Nikita Dudchenko, who has cerebral palsy, and his teammates – one as young as eight – who were training in Turkey when Russia invaded Ukraine.

With Nikita’s parents in Ukraine, Mrs Protsenko, 42, told the PA news agency that the Ukrainian embassy in Istanbul had offered to fly her nephew’s team to a refugee camp in Poland or Moldova.

Nikita Dudchenko, 14, in the swimming pool (Natalia Samorodina)

The team’s coach declined due to the needs of the athletes in her care, which she believes can be better served in Turkey, where she knows people who can help.

“We don’t want anything out of this world – all we want (is for) them to be able to continue their training and have food and, one day, when they taking part in Olympics, to stand and represent their country, Ukraine,” Mrs Protsenko told PA.

“I think that’s very important that, in the time of war, these kids… they (are) still young.

“The youngest is (eight) years old, and he was crying all night the other day – they (are) scared but they (are) doing what they have to do.”

The team left for Turkey on February 17 and were supposed to return on March 1, but are currently stuck in the city of Silivri, near Istanbul.

Nikita Dudchenko, 14, with his mother in Kyiv (Yana Protsenko)

Thanks to the help of local colleagues, the team have been able to continue to train – Nikita, 14, is preparing for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

Their predicament could continue for some time, however, as their home city in Ukraine prepares to defend itself from attack.

Mrs Protsenko said: “The part of Ukraine where this group is from, Zaporizhzhia, this city is basically at this moment building barricades, because they (are) expecting Russian soldiers (to) come through any moment now.

“It’s so important for (the team) to train, not to give up.

“No-one knows how long the war will go on. If they stop (swimming) even for a month, two, three, they will lose all their ability.

“Turkish people, Turkish colleagues, they’re helping them. They provided free accommodation for these kids and they provided the transport.

“So there is a bus, which takes them to (the) swimming pool and from (the) swimming pool so they can continue their training.”

Yana Protsenko with her husband – Yana’s nephew Nikita is stuck in Turkey with his swimming team (Yana Protsenko)

The team is comprised of seven athletes, all disabled, between the ages of eight and 23.

Coach Natalia Samorodina told PA that “the children are in a difficult psychological state”, and said they are trying to find a psychologist, but added that they are “70 kilometres from Istanbul”.

She said: “We have good conditions, but this is a small resort town and there are no people here and the children have nowhere to go and nowhere to spend time to escape from bad thoughts.”

Mrs Protsenko said she has been “overwhelmed” by the response to her GoFundMe page, adding: “Any help, whatever people can share, I understand that they taking it out of their pockets.

“It’s absolutely amazing how people reacted and there are no words to thank them.”

– To find out more about Mrs Protsenko’s fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/f/young-ukrainian-paralympic-swimming-team-help.

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