British Rowing umpire launches campaign to help Ukrainian rowing club

Thames Tradesmen RC member Gary Painter is raising funds for a minibus to transport young rowers in Ukraine to a safe place to train


Gary, who is also a World Rowing umpire, explains, “One of the privileges of international umpiring is that you meet some inspiring people from other countries. One of these is Viktoriia Maydachevska from Ukraine, with whom I’ve served on two World Rowing event juries, including at this year’s World Rowing Championships in Belgrade. She has shared some harrowing stories of how her family and friends, and the rowing community in Zaporizhzhia have been affected by the war, including how several athletes from the club have lost their lives.”

Gary PainterZaporizhzhia is in south-east Ukraine, where the front line of the fighting is focused. The boathouse at Viktoriia’s club have been destroyed and the local Dnieper river cannot be used owing to bomb damage to a nearby dam. She and her husband, who are both qualified coaches, are now working to develop youth rowing in their community at a different site, outside the centre of the city, that is safe for them, and also gets them away from the daily stresses of the conflict. They’ve named the new ‘club’ Great Meadow Rowing Club, which conjures up an idyllic image of rowing past vast fields filled with the nodding golden sunflowers for which Ukraine is famous. Right now, the reality of the facilities there couldn’t be more different (read her story below for some grim details about the changing ‘room’ and toilets), but the important thing is the community that they’re building there.

To help them get these youngsters on the water again, Viktoriia has appealed to her international colleagues for assistance. So far, she has received some generous donations from some European neighbours including Poland and Germany. And over the summer, Gary and others in the UK investigated sending donated equipment to Ukraine. Disappointingly, although they had received some generous pledges from UK clubs, post-Brexit bureaucracy and costs made getting it there impossible.

Undaunted, Gary has now launched a fundraising campaign, initially to fund the purchase of a second-hand minibus to transport the youth rowers to their new training site and hopefully to regattas in the future. Donations are going really well so far, and they’re almost half way to the initial target.

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Viktoriia’s story – in her own words

My name is Viktoriia; I am Ukrainian and an International Umpire and rowing coach. From the beginning of the war my husband and I decided to start working with novices, despite the fact that my husband has more than 40 years of experience in rowing and has worked with national teams from different countries.

“Russian troops are 50 km from us.”

Our city Zaporizhzhia is in the front line of the current war. Russian troops are 50 km from us. Our city is bombed regularly and once every 10-15 days a bomb hits a residential building.

We hope, with the help of the rest of the world, to win this war. With this in mind, we are trying to develop a local rowing club here in Zaporozhe.
People need a holiday. Especially in difficult times. Perhaps that is why the ancient Greeks stopped wars during the Olympic Games. It is unlikely that the upcoming Olympic Games will be a reason to end the war in Ukraine, which means that our city will remain in front-line status for a long time. As a result of the fighting people die and infrastructure is destroyed. The negative impact of war undermines all types of social activity, although this does not seem as dramatic as the consequences of missile strikes.

In Zaporozhe children have not attended school for the third academic year in a row. Think about it – a ten-year-old child has never entered a school classroom! Children study online, and during an air raid classes stop, and everyone must go to a shelter. Sometimes teachers only manage to teach one lesson in a whole day. Rarely is this lesson a physical education lesson.

It would seem that under the current conditions, what could be better than rowing? Rowing – fresh air, a natural environment, physical activity, communication with crew partners. The alternative to this inspiring prospect is the depressing trend towards antisocial behaviour in children and adolescents. While Ukrainian solders are devoting all their strength to repel external aggression, criminal elements are not wasting time. Young people who have fallen out of pedagogical influence fall under the influence of drug dealers and criminal elements, become apathetic, withdraw into themselves, and lose motivation.

They are, however, the future of our country!

Under such circumstances, sport acquires special social significance. Many people are realising how significant the extracurricular socially significant activities of children and adolescents are and are now making efforts to ensure that the consequences of this war are not so destructive.

Thanks to the help of the German Federation and rowing enthusiasts, we have managed to strengthen the material base of our rowing club. Now we have boats, oars, ergometers – everything we need for normal training work. Moreover, we were given money from members of the Rotary Club to deliver it to Ukraine.

However, access to the Dnieper River where training was previously held, is prohibited for safety reasons. In addition, due to the destruction of the hydroelectric dam, the Dnieper became very shallow. All the city’s rowers have to use the only remaining location suitable for access to the water, but the canal is gradually draining, already a metre less than before the war. All other rowing clubs are closed.

Athletes and coaches stoically endure temporary difficulties – there are no showers, no drinking water, the amenities include tiny dressing rooms and a medieval toilet on the street. Our changing room is now a disused railway wagon!

State funding has practically stopped; all costs fall on the shoulders of coaches and parents and in the near future, all children’s sports will become self-sustaining. Moreover Zaporozhe is an industrial city where factories often operate without treatment facilities.

In order to improve the conditions for training of rowers in the city, a non-governmental non-profit sports organisation ‘Great Meadow Rowing Club’ will been created.

“One of the major expense items is the purchase of a minibus for transporting rowers to a suburban branch and to competition sites.”

The club’s goal is to create decent training conditions for Zaporizhzhia rowers. The club’s management inspected several country properties with access to the water located at a considerable distance from potential air raid targets, and whose characteristics correspond to the goals and objectives of the rowing club. Contacts have been made for the purpose of acquiring these sites. In the future, one of these facilities will become a training place for young rowers; their second home.

Great Meadow Rowing Club is a non-profit organization; expenses in the initial formation phase will be borne by its founders. One of the major expense items is the purchase of a minibus for transporting rowers to a suburban branch and to competition sites. Any assistance provided for the purchase of a club minibus will be greatly appreciated.

We have another winter in front of us without electricity, without heating. Thankfully we did not experience too cold a winter last year, so we have a hope of survival this coming winter too!

After all, even during the war, people need a break, and sport is a holiday that is always with you.

Thank you for reading our story.