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Valentin Dubas was convinced that Russian soldiers were going to kill him. The soldiers were drunk. They arrested him and a friend. He was kneeling in the street with a gun to his head, asking him. Dubas told him that he was buying boards to repair windows in his neighborhood in Hostomel, northwest of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. They called Dubas and his friend gay. Challenge their local knowledge. Dubas may feel impatient, threatening to shoot his knee or chop off his head. All with AK-47’s pointed at his face. Dubas took one last shot to convince the soldiers to leave.
“I took the opportunity to reiterate that we are peaceful, that we have no problems and that we do not pose any threat,” he said. I also said that I was a regular teacher and basketball coach at school.
His mood changed. The soldier removed the AK-47. He picked up Dubas and took him away from the others. Dubas thought he was going to disappear. But the soldier started asking questions.
“Are you really a basketball coach?”
“I said yes,” Dubas recalls. “He started asking me questions about the rules of basketball and the most amazing thing, he asked me to explain how the word ‘basketball’ is translated.”
The military said it was Dubas’ lucky day and allowed the two Ukrainians to continue their repairs. Now, Dubas’ Nike T-shirt—purchased a year ago—is more than just a slogan. It’s the truth.
Dubas’ story is one of millions of stories that could be told after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The military occupation began on February 24, 2022—after a long build-up to 2021—and millions around the country were displaced or told to stay and fight. In the year As of June 9, the United Nations has counted more than 4.9 million refugees across Europe. Ukrainians Since its annexation of Crimea in 2014, they have felt that the possibility of violence is increasing. For eastern Ukrainians like NBA player Alex Lane and former Arizona Wildcat center Kyryl Natyazhko, these threats have been felt for a long time in the recent past. Len is in the United States, where he was able to hear and see the massacre second hand, while Natashko lived in the city of Dnipro in central Ukraine. Natyazhko describes civilian life as the balance in your mind of monitoring the news and evacuation plans if you live near the Russian border.
“My husband and son were locked up for two months,” Natyazhko said. But none of us believed that in 2022 one country would attack another country for some unexplainable reason.
Again, the invasion was sudden and unprovoked. Prepared or not, people had to move and get to safety quickly. For Dubas, it means a last-minute reminder to escape to Kyiv via the Green Corridor.
“There were eight of us and one beautiful German shepherd,” he said. “We understood that the chances of getting out alive were 50-50, but they still took the risk. We went to Bucha, we saw many dead civilians and evacuation trucks on the road like us. But we got there.
For basketball players, professional and amateur, the game and those around it have come to a standstill. After football, basketball is the country’s most popular sport, and in the USSR (1922-1991) Ukrainian players were key to the dominance of the national team. Len, who grew up in the city of Anthracite in eastern Ukraine, spoke Russian, and studied Ukrainian until he attended school in Dnipro. Lane uses words like “brother countries” to explain how shocking the invasion was.
“I don’t think for the life of me that Russia will go to war with its own people,” Lane said.
Ukrainian pro Dmytro “Smov” Krivenko said that despite warnings from the US government that embassies would be closed and American players told to return home, the possibility of war seemed overblown.
“My friends and I were joking around trying to plan our next workout,” Krivenko said. “If there is no war, let’s shoot at 9 tomorrow.“
Krivenko is an international member of the Harlem Globetrotters and the 2018 FIBA Dunk Contest champions. Before the outbreak He signed to the Globetrotters in 2020 and was unable to join the traveling team, further delayed by the war. In February, he signed a contract to play professional 3×3 in India. The flight is scheduled for March 2. When he returns, he will play during the summer, devote time to his YouTube channel and prepare for the arrival of his first child.
“A month of life[s] “It was big before the invasion,” he says.
The couple spent the first week of the invasion in a bomb shelter. They left Obolon, a suburb north of Kiev, a day before the attack and occupation began. They focused on finding gas, buying food and making an exit plan for his wife – a refugee from Luhansk who fled in 2014, along with her mother and sister to escape to Poland. The family stayed in the western part of the country until they crossed into Poland. Krivenko said his parents and brother are in Kharkiv, 30km from the frontline, and that his relatives are now in Russian-held regions. Krivenko could not go with his family because all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 61 had to stay and wait for a chance to enlist.
As the scale of the invasion escalated, and by many reports, Russia’s impatience, which seemed certain that Ukraine would be quickly defeated, led to heavy airstrikes, people like Krivenko put it this way. @smooveukraineAnd other social media savvy citizens across the country took to Instagram to present the massacre through the familiar lens of basketball.
They met with photographers documenting the ruins of civilian areas that should not have been targets of war. They shared pictures of gymnasiums bombed, windows shattered, others with huge holes in the ceiling.
“It was the first sign that there was no place for the whole basketball community to talk about ‘sport is not politics,'” Krivenko said. “After that, my friends started sending me lots of photos and videos from different cities. In Kharkiv, a Russian rocket destroyed half of the university gym where I played as a student.”
Denis Karachevtsev, a cellist, recorded the Project Trio’s performance of “Cherry Blossoms” while sitting in front of Kharkiv’s basketball hoop. Immediately behind the hoop is the remains of a burned building. Posted @kharkovcelistof The statement reads: “My one and only hometown. My favorite sport. The performance is transcendental. The video has over 100,000 views on Instagram and has been shared by ABC News, Reuters, and other US news organizations. The Washington PostAnd New York Times.
Natalya Yuditska is a 29-year-old citizen of Kyiv. She had the opportunity to leave Ukraine when the invasion began, but chose to stay. She hosts a PayPal fundraiser on her Instagram. @tasha_shorty has over 470 followers, but most of her followers are Americans who love and share basketball content. She said the March 1 bombing that destroyed the basketball landmark Avangard Pavilion in Kyiv had hit the basketball community hard.
“That place was of great value to many seekers in Kyiv,” she says. “Then I realized that the basketball community around the world needs to see the horrors of this war. There are a lot of destroyed basketball halls and courts in Ukraine and sometimes they make more impression on people than news reports.
For Alex Lane, Avangard is the location of his first in-game pony. But it wasn’t just Avangard – the gym in Kiev, where the national team has been training since 2013, was also bombed. A year ago, Lane tattooed the official coat of arms of Ukraine, which is meant to symbolize the Ukrainian fighters who protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine today. He was on All-Star break last February when the rush started. He tried to convince his family to leave early by selling them a family vacation for Turkey, but they wanted to stay.
“Of the day [February] By the 24th, I had maybe 200 plus messages,” he says.
Before tip-off for their home game against the Denver Nuggets that night at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, the two teams locked arms for a moment and stood at midcourt in silence and solidarity for Ukraine. Above them, the screen was black with the words “Ни війні не бога” in bold white font. Like his countrymen in Ukraine, Len’s mind wasn’t on basketball. He stayed with the kings. Dressed for games. He used exercises and sports as opportunities to clear his head, but emotional weight and bad news kept coming home.
As the only two Ukrainians in the NBA, Toronto Raptors teammates Lane and Svi Mykhailiuk have focused on mutual aid with the Hope For Ukraine Fund. The Kings have made donations, and Lane said he has received support from teammates, coaches and other players around the league. He was surprised when Bosnian NBA player Jusuf Nurkic and Italian pro Danilo Gallinari asked for his help. The Ukraine Hope Fund is helping to provide support for refugees, medical and humanitarian aid, and rebuilding sports infrastructure in the long term.
“Everybody back home is saying humanitarian aid is good, but the military needs more,” says Lane.
Life during war is not all about fighting. Ukrainian pro Kyryl Natyazhko hasn’t thought about or picked up basketball since February. Playing in Lithuania and Poland, he has been using his connections to acquire vehicles for military service. He takes the train from his home in Dnipro to the border, buys pickup trucks and jeeps, and loads donated water and food. He made the trip 10 times. It’s a dangerous journey as the Russians target trains to cut supply lines. Then he’s driving close to the front line to drop. He once saw a helicopter shot down until he was so close.
“I think, you know, we’re starting to understand as a country that not all war is on the front lines,” he says. “There is a war in the back.”
Social media has emphasized the importance of the war. Ukrainians are not only telling the story from within, but also making awareness and participation active around the world.
“They will wait until the noise is reduced,” he said of Russia. “So they can do what they want to do. As time goes on, we will get stronger because we have the support of the whole world. They will become weaker, because nobody wants to support evil. It’s like a game. We will weaken them, we will weaken them.
Part of that fight is to preserve their pre-war lifestyles, with a better future in sight. Natasha encourages her friends, artists and musicians, to use their talents to let the soldiers know that they are supported, and that they know what they are fighting for. In April, while staying in Ivano-Frankivsk, Kryvenko was invited to participate in a children’s basketball camp. He was surprised to learn that many of the children were refugees from eastern Ukraine and Kiev. Krivenko asked if they wanted to watch basketball now.
“Of course they are!” He says. “And I understand that life goes on no matter what, especially for children. Adults continue to live their lives with news, real problems, what to do next, where to live, where to make money.
He remembers him being carefree and full of playing basketball with friends, but his parents were struggling in the post-USSR era, reminding him of his own childhood.
According to the United Nations, 2.3 million “cross-border movements” have returned to Ukraine, as Russian forces retreat from Kiev and move closer to the eastern and southern borders. After months in Kiev, Yuditska said she was able to enjoy simple pleasures again. This means a visit to her favorite coffee shop and a trip to the park.
“Basketball is my medicine,” she says. “It’s given me a bit of a distraction from the horrors that happen every day in my country. I’m really happy to have the chance to play again.
Action photo by Getty Images.