COLLEGE TENNIS: UTPB players remember worries on anniversary of invasion


UTPB/Special to the Odessa American

The world watched in horror on Feb. 24, 2022, as the news began to circulate that Russian forces had begun a military invasion of the neighboring country of Ukraine.

As people across the globe watched the scenes unfold on television and on their phones, one UTPB tennis player, Viktoriia Sholudko, was on her phone desperately waiting to hear from her parents.

“I would talk to my family every day,” Sholudko explained while recounting the first moments of the conflict. “My dad would say every day, ‘We are about to go to war. You need to be ready to support yourself for a while.’ But it never started.”

Sholudko said the threat of war seemed to be a daily feeling in her hometown of Lviv.

When the war started, Sholudko was desperate to hear from her parents.

“I checked my phone and the war actually started,” she said. “I started checking on my family, and everything. It was scary and shocking and I started panicking a lot.”

Sholudko said in the beginning it was frustrating, the news was unclear about what was going on and she was having no luck getting a hold of her family, “I wasn’t sure if it was a small attack or they were bombing all of Ukraine.”

She was relieved to finally hear that her family was safe from the initial attacks.

However, it was hard on the sophomore as the war dominated news coverage and was always all around her.

”I changed my sleep schedule to sleep when my family was asleep and be awake when they were awake,” she said. “I would wake up to text messages from them most of the time.

“But sometimes it was hard for us to text or call because the service would be down, sometimes the power was down.”

As Sholudko was experiencing these events from afar, her teammate, Vitaliy Horovoy, a freshman from Kiev, was still in Ukraine when the invasion started.

“Every day at 6 a.m. you wake up to explosions, air raid sirens, the whistles from rockets,” Horovoy said. “The sky is completely gray, and you don’t know what to do. Do you stay in your home? Do you head for the bomb shelter? Or do you leave the city?”

Horovoy said during the first two weeks leaving the city was impossible.

Not only because of the lines of cars and people, but also all the exits were occupied by Russian soldiers. Within the first six hours of the war, Vitaliy found food and water and waited with his mother in a bomb shelter just hoping to survive the first wave of danger.

“On my way home from getting food and water I saw a Ukrainian jet chasing a Russian jet right over head,” he said. “We took this as a sign to just stay in the bomb shelter for the first couple of days.

”We took our most important stuff and headed to the bomb shelter. The next day, February 25, some troops entered our city. That was the most dangerous time in my hometown.”

Over the next few days Horovoy said there was no one on the streets.

There were no lights, no electricity.

Sometimes all they heard was silence, sometimes they heard shotguns firing nearby.

“Sometimes we would hear cars driving, then tanks shooting,” he added. “We stayed in the bomb shelter for one week.”

After a week, Vitaliy said they got the news that the exits were clear. His mom told him this was his chance to try to get out of the city.

“Mom wanted to me go even though it was too difficult for her to come with me,” Horovoy said. “All her properties, all her businesses, everything she had worked to build up for years.”

So he grabbed some personal things, warm clothes, his tennis racket, and got on a bus and started his journey to try to escape the city.

Right away he ran into trouble. The bus he was trying to escape on was attacked by Russian soldiers and he remembers lying on the floor as the bus was trying to get away.

It took 10 hours to just get out of the city and another 10 hours to get to Lviv, his former home city and Sholudko’s hometown. Horovoy stayed there one night before getting on a train to the closet Polish city.

“The train was harder than the bus. There were so many people, and everyone was scared,” he said. “There was no food, no water, no air, I didn’t know anyone, I was without my parents.

“People are crying, children are crying, all because they don’t know what to do. It was the first time I had a panic attack, and I was only 16 years old.”

The only spot Horovoy could find to sit was between the cars where it very freezing cold. It took a full day for his train to reach the border, where there was already five full trains ahead of his waiting to be processed.

“The problem at the border was many people didn’t have any documents, any licenses, nothing to prove who they were,” he said. “This made the process very slow. Plus, there was a rule that every time the sirens went off, everything had to stop. No work, no games, all buses, and trains had to stop. Nothing until the sirens went quite again.”

With nothing to do and nowhere to go, with no food, water, with no charge on his phone and no way to contact his mother to see if she was ok, or to tell her where he was, Horovoy just slept in an open field waiting for his turn to be processed.

He waited for four days.

Horovoy recalled the moment he realized he was going to be okay: “I was just trying to survive. I was just surviving. Then I finally came into Poland. There were so many volunteers. They helped me with food, water, a lot of help, a lot of food. I realized this was the moment when I knew I had survived.”

Most importantly, Horovoy was able to charge his phone and hear his mom’s voice and tell her he made it across.

Horovoy finally met up with family members, and after sleeping for more than 22 hours started working on getting back to his normal routine.

He started playing tennis again and found his way to UTPB with a chance to play for the Falcons.

His mother eventually made it out of the Ukraine and is staying with family here in the states, and although he hopes to see his home again one day, for now, his family is safe.

Sholudko, on the other hand, is still trying to cope with war and how it is impacting her family. Currently, her brother is trying to join her here in the United States, and her sister left for Germany, but her parents are still in Ukraine waiting to rebuild.

“My parents lost their business when a rocket landed near their building. It shattered the windows and caved in the roof, destroying all the equipment inside.”

Sholudko says her parents are safe for now as they have relocated to a city close to Poland.

She has heard, however, that area is also now starting to see rocket attacks.

Eventually, Sholudko had to learn to set aside the war for a little bit so she could concentrate on school and tennis.

“If I think about it too much, I will just cry. Emotionally, it takes energy as well,” she said. “Now, I can control my emotions a little bit. I just stay away from the news. I check on my family and make sure they are ok and then I focus on school and tennis. My team has been very supportive and are helping me emotionally.”

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