Oleh Handei races for Ukraine at Olympics as mother prepares for war

KYYIV — Yelena Handei sometimes thinks it’s better not to watch her son’s biggest races live on TV. “My heart could stop in those 40 seconds,” she told The Daily Beast. “I’d better watch a replay.”

That’s not the only thing she has to worry about.

While Oleh Handei was at Beijing for the Olympics—To compete in the short track speed skating tournament for Ukraine — his family back home is preparing for an invasion of President Putin’s Russian military.

The Handeis know that carnage can be carried out if Russian forces overrun the border, as family members have suffered. “My cousin had to flee eastern Ukraine, when the war started in 2014; Her parents are still there and their lives are divided,” Yelena said, after inviting The Daily Beast into the family home.

Western governments fear Putin is on the track 2014 invasion of Eastern Ukraine With a full-scale invasion, the Russian military could reach Kyiv – where Yelena and her 13 children live – within days of an air raid on border lands.

Oleh Handei, 22, told The Daily Beast he couldn’t escape the shadow of war as he arrived in Beijing to prepare for the biggest race of his life.

He has even faced some Russian brewing conflicts at the Olympics. “A group of men came up to me, I’m not sure what sport they represent, they were wearing Russian Olympic uniforms and they asked me some weird questions, like why am I in Beijing, when the country I’m poor and when is the war going to start,” Oleh told The Daily Beast, by phone. “I answered them decently: ‘Let’s talk about these issues some other time, guys,’ I said, because I didn’t want any provocation. Besides, one can achieve victory through dignity”.

Conflict crept into every sphere of life of the people living on both sides of the border.

Fears of impending war reached a boiling point on Friday just as Oleh was preparing to compete in 3 of the 500 metres.

“My heart ached when I read this news,” he said. “But it can’t be stopped.”

In the end, Oleh finished fourth in his temper, failing to qualify for the later stages, but he said he has felt “overwhelmed with pride” to be able to feature in the Under-Grade Opening Ceremony. blue and yellow Ukraine flag: “At a time when the whole world talks about the threat of war enveloping my country, our relationship with Moscow, we, the best athletes of Ukraine marching in front of the camera under the flag of our country – it was the biggest highlight of my life.”

He said he can picture every single smiling face of his family gathered in front of the TV as he walks around the Bird’s Nest stadium.

Back in the southwestern suburbs of Kyiv – despite threats from Russia – the Handeis are a fun place. Oleh’s three sisters — Zarina, 7 Alisa, 6, and Dina, 4 — were dancing in their spacious kitchen as white cat Leo watched. Oleh’s brother Yaroslav, 23, who is also an athlete and champion of many international competitions, has returned home with a large Labrador named Sindy.

Yelena sat and talked for a while on the couch, which stretched beneath a gallery of portraits of her seven biological children and six others who had been adopted.

“Nearly every kid I have, including Dina, 4, can skate and bring us medals,” Yelena said, pointing to a wall covered with hundreds of medals and titles. “This important place in our home shows you how dedicated my children and we, their parents, were to winning for Ukraine.”

She said seven years of conflict with Russia had damaged sports facilities in Ukraine. “Sport should be a peaceful place, but war has robbed it of its quintessence and resources, even at the Olympic team level. When my son trains in Kazakhstan, he can see how smooth and perfect the ice is for short-distance skaters. Before the war, we had much better facilities,” she said.

Her two other sons, who are also top athletes, have moved to Spain and Poland, so she is happy that Oleh continues to perform under the Ukrainian flag in Beijing.

Yaroslav, who also competes for his country, said: “Our victory would never have happened without our mother, who always pushed us, taught us discipline, encouraged us. … In our family, we believe that sport is apolitical.”

When Yelena put on her coat to pick up one of her daughters from dance class, she said she couldn’t stand the idea of ​​an impending all-out war with Kyiv. “I can’t even think about it – I’m a mother of 13,” she said.

Oleh, who is returning to Kyiv this week, is certainly thinking about it. He said “if trouble comes,” and Russian troops flood into his beloved Ukraine, the only place he will be, “on the front lines.” Oleh Handei races for Ukraine at Olympics as mother prepares for war

Russell Falcon

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