As Ariel Atkins reflects on Ukraine season, teammate navigates dangers

Brittney Griner woke up last Saturday after reports of Ukrainian and Russian American players returning safely, just as WNBA fans and families began to feel at ease. Detained by Russian police Suspected of possessing an arc cartridge containing hashish oil more than 3 weeks ago. Greener was detained at the airport when he was about to return to Russia, where he competed for UMMC Yekaterinburg and played professionally during the WNBA’s off-season for the past eight years.

Suddenly, the real consequences of Russia’s political agenda have become very familiar to American sports fans. At the heart of the conflict in Europe, the lives of professional Ukrainian players were completely disrupted as soon as Russia invaded its country. It started two weeks ago.

Olympic gold medalist and Mystics starting guard Ariel Atkins was competing in Ukraine when things began to unravel. After stints in Poland, Australia and Turkey, Atkins decided to play with BC Prometi, a Camianque-based EuroCup team, during this WNBA offseason. Atkins led Promethy to the record for the regular season of the 9-1 Euro Cup, averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

At the end of January, the European season was suspended for a month’s national team break as top players returned to the national team program for the FIBA ​​World Cup Qualifying Tournament. Atkins joined Team USA in Washington, DC, home of the WNBA, for a three-day training camp and a two-game series between Puerto Rico and Belgium.

Atkins is skeptical of returning to Eastern Europe for the rest of the season, as Russian troops were gathering on the Ukrainian border even before she took a break, and her belongings for her trip home. Packed almost everything.

“It was definitely a difficult decision,” Atkins recalled in a recent conversation. Just women’s sports.. “In the end, I didn’t intend to cross the border with Ukraine, so I decided not to go home because I didn’t know how to get out of it once things were in their current state.”

But when her agent said the team was moved to Bulgaria and continued to practice ahead of the Eurocup playoff series with a tough Turkish team, Atkins went to Europe to rejoin his Ukrainian teammates. I returned to the plane.

“I have formed ties with my teammates and really care about them,” Atkins said from Turkey the day before CBK Mersin knocked Prometi out of the EuroCup competition. “I want things to work for them and I want to help as much as I can. But I honestly, personally, I don’t know how. I’m thinking. That, feeling, or dealing with is not even an ounce of what they are dealing with. “

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rapidly escalated during the short period of time when Promethy practiced in Bulgaria and then competed in Turkey. Olga Dubrovina, the Ukrainian captain of the team, did his best to comfort his teammates as the feeling of helplessness overwhelmed his teammates.

“Everyone cries. No one knows how to help,” Dubrovina said in her semi-fluent English. “Everyone is scared. Many leave [Ukraine].. The situation is very bad. Many people die. “

In shock and sadness, the team continued to practice and prepare for the playoff game.

“There are moments here and there where you can see that the room is a little dark,” Atkins said. “I feel that my job is to make the practice more enjoyable and to make me feel a little better without knowing what they are doing with friends and family when they go home.”

After losing that final playoff game and the rest of the Ukrainian Women’s Basketball Super League season being canceled due to the war, Atkins returned to the United States while his teammates were scattered all over Europe. A couple of Dubrovina and her Prometey teammates can sign a team in Turkey and play there for the remaining six weeks of the national league.

Dubrovina, who has a safe 4-year-old daughter and husband, a professional soccer player in her hometown of Bulgaria, is now financially supportive of her family and the safety of her parents, grandmothers, siblings and other loved ones in Ukraine. Is to secure.

“My brother is at war in Ukraine. I don’t know what he’s doing,” she said. “I don’t know where he is and what he’s doing. It’s an army. It’s all like a secret, just wait for him to talk and he calls his mom.”

Dubrovina, 34, says some of Prometey’s teammates chose to return to Ukraine, even though they advised them to stay in Turkey until the danger subsided. According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not currently allowed to leave the country, so those with a husband or father under the age of 60 were most eager to return. General military mobilization..

Other teammates were scattered throughout Poland and Belgium, Dubrovina explained. One was in Canada, where there was a family connection. Another who chose to stay and play in Turkey plans to spend the money she earns there to safely take her child and grandmother out of Ukraine at the end of the season.

Olga Dubrovina will compete for the Ukraine national team at the 2014 European Championships. (Jonas Güttler / Getty Images Photo Alliance

Dubrovina initially left Ukraine in 2014, when tensions with Russia over the annexation of Crimea increased. After she played professional basketball all over Europe for 10 years, Point Guard thought her playing career was behind her when she got pregnant with her daughter in 2018. A court with a newly established Prometey club in Ukraine. As a result, Dubrovina, her husband and their young daughter have spent the last two years in Ukraine.

Now that her family has moved to Bulgaria, Dubrovina is the only provider for the time being. She focuses on feeding her daughter who wants to be a basketball player like her mother when she grows up, while she is in a situation that is otherwise unbearable. It is said to keep the sanity. Dubrovina talks to her family every time she breaks, often 10 times a day.

She finally wants to take her parents safely to Bulgaria. She envisions staying in Bulgaria to raise her family surrounded by her husband’s relatives. The main reason her parents are still in Ukraine is that her grandmother cannot travel.

“I’m with my family, my daughter, and my husband, and now I have an invalid grandma, so talk to your mom,” she said. “She can’t move, she’s just in bed. I want to take her mom and her family to Bulgaria, but it’s impossible because grandma gets stuck and it’s so dangerous.”

As for what Dubrovina thinks will happen in her hometown, she says surrendering is not an option for her people.

“You need to understand, we’re not afraid of anything,” she said. “We are people who just can’t stay and shut up … we can’t lose. If we lose, it’s as if we’re dead.”

She also urged Western leaders to hear Ukrainian plea for military assistance in Ukrainian airspace.

“”[Those] Those in power should close the sky for Ukraine, “she begged. “We don’t need food. We don’t need money help. Just to close the sky … We talk about this day and night. Close the sky. That’s all.”

For now, the continuation of the league outside Ukraine is helping players like Dubrovina survive this catastrophe better. but, Greener’s situation will escalate With more geopolitical tensions, WNBA players who supplement their salaries abroad during the off-season will make even more difficult decisions in the future.

Tessa Nichols is a contributor to Just Women’s Sports.

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