Editor’s note: On February 24, 2022, approximately 150,000 of Russia’s “peace-keeping” troops and tanks spilled over the borders of Ukraine, violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country in what President Vladimir Putin claimed was a “special military operation.” Missiles and airstrikes struck across the country, including the capital Kyiv, and a large ground invasion followed from multiple directions.
Ukraine enacted martial law — the temporary substitution of military authority for civilian rule — and initiated a general mobilization of all male Ukrainian citizens between 18 and 60. Males that fell into that age category were barred from leaving the country unless documents and/or permission to do so was granted by the Ukrainian government.
As of June 16, 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 10,094 civilian casualties in the country: 4,509 killed (1,747 men, 1,166 women, 124 girls, and 129 boys, as well as 41 children and 1,302 adults whose sex is yet unknown) and 5,585 injured (1,138 men, 792 women, 125 girls, and 166 boys, as well as 172 children and 3,192 adults whose sex is yet unknown). In addition, over 7 million people remain displaced by the war and 15.7 million people are estimated to urgently require humanitarian assistance and protection.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, pair skaters Sofiia Holichenko and Artem Darenskyi were at home in Dnipro — a city on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine.
“I woke up at about five in the morning from explosions,” recalled Holichenko. “Artyom called me and said that the war had begun and I immediately called my parents, because they were in Kyiv which was constantly being bombed. I was very worried about my family and friends. We tried to keep in touch as much as possible. It was scary!”
The team left Ukraine to compete at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships where they ultimately withdrew. They then went to Poland for a bit to train before returning to Dnieper in May to resume training under their coach, Liliia Batutina.
“The war has affected all those who live in Ukraine,” noted Darenskyi. “Life has become more difficult and unexpected. Sirens buzz and missiles explode every day. It’s hard to see that people and children die every day and it’s hard to see that people who live in Russia see it and are silent or support it.”
“Many people left,” added Holichenko. “Friends, relatives, and there is no opportunity to see both friends and parents. I have not seen my father for a very long time, the last time in February. It breaks my heart for what the Russians did to Mariupol, Kharkov, Bucha, Gostomel, and many more cities. We all hope that this will end soon. We will also work hard to adequately represent Ukraine in competitions. To prove that we are fighting, we are strong and Ukrainians will cope with everything!”
Holichenko’s father is serving with the territorial defense in the city of Kyiv, while Darenskyi’s father is in the Ukrainian armed forces.
“What is happening now in Ukraine should not happen anywhere else,” said Darenskyi. “People should realize that war has not changed, it will always be tragic and bloody. Civilians and children will always die. People in Ukraine are not thinking about vacation on the beach. They are wondering if they will be alive tomorrow or if their relatives are alive. Each day rockets and bombs arrive in many cities and no one knows where they will fall.”
When not training, Darenskyi runs a football (soccer) team to collect money for the frontlines of the Ukrainian army.
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“Before the war, I played on the Falcon football team,” he explained. “When the war began, half of the team went to serve in the army. A whole squad was wiped out, killed, and at at the moment, two people from the team are in hospital with injuries. I’m now playing on a new team that raises money to help the military. We buy helmets body armor, clothes, and so on. Every Saturday we play in a tournament that collects money and it also helps to distract civilians from the war so that they get some emotion besides the war.”
The 2022 National Champions are hoping to compete this upcoming season and are currently working on new elements and programs.
“City Hall has given us ice for free and this helps very much!” said Darenskyi. “Our goal is to show that there is figure skating in Ukraine and it will develop despite the war. We also want our people to see that athletes are also fighting. We want people to know what is happening in Ukraine.”
Holichenko and Darenskyi will use the short program from last season set to “Alive” by the Ukrainian group The Hardkiss, while the free skate will be to a cover compilation of compositions from Nirvana.
“It was a gift from Hugo Chouinard,” Holichenko said of the short program music. “He arranged this music for us and we performed it at the 2022 World Championships. We liked it very much and we decided to leave it for the next season.
“For the free skate, we thought about this music for a long time,” she added. “We liked it and we wanted to put a free program under it. We were offered more options and we put together several compositions.”
The young team made their international debut at 2021 Nebelhorn Trophy — a Challenger Series event and qualifying event for the 2022 Olympics. They followed up with all new personal best scores at the 2022 European Figure Skating Championships.
The team missed their debut at the 2021 World Champions as they tested positive for COVID-19. This past year, Holichenko and Darenskyi did not have much time to train due to the invasion, but they pushed through an exhausting six-day trip through several countries in order to compete in France. They withdrew after their short program which received a standing ovation from the audience.
They are now currently working to improve various elements for next season, including jumps, spins, and transitions.
“We are working on a new lift for the free skate and want to improve the levels on the twist,” said Darenskyi. “We are also learning side-by-side triple flips.”
“And learning the back-inside death spiral,” added Holichenko. “We are trying to improve the level in the forward-inside as well.”
Despite living and training in a war-torn country, the team, along with many other Ukrainian athletes, are pushing forward with nerves of steel.
“I am motivated and pushed by my friends, relatives and those people who are dear to me,” said Darenskyi. “They really want to see me at competitions and I want to represent my country at many competitions.”