How sport can promote peace even in times of war

Yaroslava Mahuchikho is the reigning world indoor high jump champion.

Now she is also a refugee from Ukraine and lives and trains in Germany during the athletics season.

On the occasion of the Olympic day 2022 of June 23, the theme of which is #MoveForPeace, the Dnipro resident confided in an exclusive interview. She explains how she tries to promote peace in her country through sport.

“Be nicer to everyone, because sport unites, sport helps and athletes help each other,” Mahuchikh continues.

“At the Olympics, everyone stays together. The Olympic Village brings people from all countries together. The Olympics undoubtedly bring people together. They’ve always done it, they’re doing it today and will do it again tomorrow,” she says.

Ukrainian athletes have fled to train

Mahuchikh’s victory at the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, came three weeks after his native country’s attack.

The invasion disrupted the Olympic bronze medalist’s training. “It was very difficult, first we fled to Khmelnytskyi,” Mahuchikh recalls the first days after February 24, when the world changed for her and her fellow Ukrainians.

“There was the training camp for our small national team that was going to the World Cup (indoors). In the middle of our journey we were forced to head towards the border. †

“Our journey lasted three days. Finally we arrived in Serbia and we could finally train without a siren, without an explosion. †

Mahuchikh knew full well that she wouldn’t be home for a while. “The most difficult moment was saying goodbye to my family, to my father,” she recalls.

“But then you realize that you have to fight, perform for your country on the international stage, show that Ukraine is still there. †

The journey was riddled with pitfalls for the high jumper, both in the time she spent on the road and the thoughts running through her head. She admits she questioned herself on this long journey that took her off the field.

“I wondered a lot why I had to leave,” continues Mahuchikh. “I had just started providing humanitarian aid. (But) I understood that we had a lot of volunteers in Dnipro, because it was (then) a relatively safe region. Our city has come together and helped each other a lot. †

“And I wondered why I had to go to Worlds and why I had to jump. Then I realized it was my job. This is my domain, I have to defend my country in my sector. (At the time) I understood that people who do their job help their country and everyone can do it in their respective field. †

A divorced family

Mahuchikh has not returned home since he left Ukraine for the World Indoor Championships in March. This season, she competed in the Diamond League circuit while based in Erlangen, Germany, thanks to the help of her sponsors.

“They helped us and provided us with apartments,” she says. “My mother, my sister and her daughter also came there. †

The Ukrainian also wanted to pay tribute to the various sports federations, both international and national, that came to the aid of her country’s athletes to find new training centers for them during the war and welcomed them with open arms.

But, she says, “my house was and still is in Ukraine, in Dnipro, my city, my apartment. †

Dnipro, located in central-eastern Ukraine, is now close to the front lines of the conflict. “Many people stayed at home in Dnipro,” confirms Mahuchikh. “Some are in Poland. †

“Of course everyone wants to go home. I spoke to my sister recently. I told him I wanted to go home, live a normal life again, without the sound of sirens. †

“But she reads the stories of those returning from Poland. You want to do it, but it’s not always safe because missiles are exploding in my city right now. †

Mahuchikh brings ‘smile and joy’ to Ukraine

Her coronation in Belgrade was accompanied by one of the happiest consequences: the attention aroused by a world champion and the many opportunities for her to throw herself out on the situation in her country. A coronation that also made his compatriots smile.

“In light of all the bad news, people finally heard some good news and could smile. And I succeeded, because many people thanked me for bringing smiles and joy,” Mahuchikh recalls. “After the game I took part in press conferences and even before that I moved to the mixed zone. Of course, as a winner you get more media attention than with a silver or bronze medal. It was an extra motivation. †

“You know that you can get a result in competition and then talk to journalists, and they will publish what you say. After the event in Serbia, I had so many interview requests. I can help thanks to my sporting results, which give me the opportunity to to speak to the media.”

“(I want people to know) we are a very strong nation, Ukraine has been through a lot in its history and suffered a lot. But I know we are strong and we will all survive. We just have to believe in ourselves. †

Sport as a connecting factor

Above all, Mahuchikh remains convinced that sport can promote peace, whether by raising awareness about the situation in Ukraine and other conflict zones, or simply by bringing people together.

“Sport shows the good qualities of women and men in all aspects of life: their strong character, their will to carry on to the end, no matter what. †

“For me, the Olympics unite all countries. The Olympics help the world. They are still broadcast in all countries, even people who are not sports fans watch the Games. It’s something incredible. †