Athletics-Ukraine’s Ryzhykova fighting in the best way she can – on the track


By Lori Ewing

(Reuters) – Hurdler Anna Ryzhykova, one of an estimated 40,000 athletes of all sports who were forced to flee Ukraine to train abroad after the Russian invasion, says she is fighting for her home country as best she can – with her results at the Route.

The Olympic bronze medalist has already qualified for the World Athletics Championships in August and the renewal of the Solidarity Fund for Ukraine announced by the sport’s global governing body on Wednesday will help her get there.

The World Athletics-backed fund distributed $220,000 to more than 100 Ukrainian athletes in 2022.

Ryzhykova fled her eastern Ukrainian homeland of Dnipro within weeks after Russia invaded the country in February last year in what Moscow is calling a “special operation”. Her trainer Volodymyr Kravchenko joined the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine.

“Every Ukrainian stood up to defend our homeland … as is the case in sports,” Ryzhykova told a small group of reporters on a call from Fort Worth, Texas, where she temporarily lives and trains. “By participating in competitions, we do not let the world forget about a country like Ukraine.

“I cry and worry about my friends, my family every day. But I’m still training and showing good results to help my country.”

Ryzhykova, 33, finished fifth in the 400m hurdles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and won bronze in the 4×400 relay at the London 2012 Olympics.


According to the international athlete-led organization Global Athlete, 343 sports facilities have been destroyed since the invasion, leaving an estimated 140,000 young athletes without facilities, while 40,000 athletes are training abroad.

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The numbers cover all sports.

Ryzhykova trained for many weeks every year at a top-class athletics facility in Bakhmut.

Russian forces have been waging an intense campaign for months to take control of the small town and give Moscow its first battlefield victory in more than half a year.

“Now it’s destroyed and the city has been under shelling for many months,” Ryzhykova said.

The financial help to train and compete abroad is crucial because “sports bases have been destroyed, there are constant threats of missile attacks, we live in fear,” she added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last month that 228 Ukrainian athletes had been killed in the war.


Ukrainian high jumper Kateryna Tabashnyk dedicated her bronze medal at the European Indoor Championships this month to her mother, who was killed in a Russian strike in August, saying: “This medal carries all my pain and sorrow.”

Ryzhykova, who also fears children will never experience the joy of sport after spending so much of their young lives in bomb shelters, said she hopes no one ever feels her despair.

“You forget your career, your dreams and you think about how to survive and how to help your family and friends survive and the World Athletics Solidarity Fund has truly saved the careers of our athletes and given us the chance to to fight for our country our way,” she said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is facing a major backlash after opening the door for athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in next year’s Olympics in Paris.

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Belarus was an important theater of the Russian invasion.

“They kill my friends, my friends’ relatives, many of my friends go to war, a number of athletes were also killed by Russians,” Ryzhykova said. “I can’t even imagine how I can be close to the person who supports the war or stays silent.”

Ryzhykova added that she would support a Ukraine boycott of the Paris Games but hopes the IOC will instead ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing there.

The Russian Athletics Federation (RAF) has been banned from athletics since 2015 because of widespread doping in the country, although some athletes from Russia have been allowed to compete as neutrals at the last two Summer Olympics.

(Reporting by Lori Ewing in Manchester, England; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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