Despite the ongoing conflict with Russia, Ukraine's surf team are working all kinds of crazy hours to get a field of competitors ready for the ISA World Surfing Games on September 16-24 at Huntington Beach in California.
For president of the Ukrainian Surfing Federation Vasyl Kordysh, it is a bit of a logistical nightmare. “Three men, Paviel Marakhovskyi, Valerii Monastyrskyi and Iaroslav Dombrovskyi, plus three women, Nina Zavodchikova, Julia Kulish and Anastasiia Temirbek will compete at the games. They were already out of the country prior to the war starting,” he said. “But I cannot go, I cannot get out of Ukraine right now, so I'm doing what I can from here to support everyone and it is incredibly tricky to organise anything.”
The problem at the moment is VISAs for entry into the USA from various parts of the world. “We've got people in Bali, Portugal, we're all trying to fast-track the process. We've heard VISAs are kind of complex at the moment.
“Ukrainians shouldn't apply for non-immigrant visas in order to travel to the US as refugees, but we're not refugees – yet it opens a bunch of questions for immigration. Until we get the interviews sorted though, we're just working to get this sorted as best we can. The ISA are helping a whole lot too."
15-year-old Valerii aka Wolly, is in.
As for how the outlook is for Vasyl, the situation in Ukraine is different from the last time we spoke with him a few months back. “Right now, my area is quiet in Odesa. Nothing bad has happened for a while. Sometimes the air defence systems shuts down some rockets, like yesterday for example. I've actually been skating a lot, no surfing yet. It's been six months or so since I last got in the water.
“It's the longest time I've gone without surfing. It's tricky and a weird feeling not to surf. So, I just can't even imagine what it's going to be like to go to the water. People have gotten used to the war, how crazy is that? Rockets flying overhead... eh, just another day. In Odesa, we're trying to live a normal life. Work and spend some money, get the economy running. Very important for now.”
Last year, Ukraine became the 109th country to join the ISA World Surfing Games, making their debut appearance in El Salvador. “That was super fun,” said Vasyl. “We made some good friends and connections. I'm disappointed I can't go this year but there's so much good I can do from here.
“We are just trying to wave our flag in as many places as possible, telling the world that Ukraine is still alive, we are part of the international community, and sporting community. When I was there at WSG last year, it's like a big family. I hope our Team Ukraine find other friends and feel the same feelings I have. They're a part of it. We have support from Jamaica, US, Great Britain, Poland, Lithuania and Australia.
“And Huntington Beach is iconic, was there for the US Open 10-years-ago, I don't like the phrase good vibes, but it kind of is, or was back then.”
A couple of weeks ago, Vasyl had a meeting with Ukrainian President Zalensky as part of International Youth Day. “It was a way from him to see what we were doing with surfing and young people. He listened, understood it. And wanted to hear any problems he could help with. I mean, war's a pretty big problem but people are looking to the future.
“How we can develop young people about science, education when this is over? We had a great online chat with him, he's super cool, super involved in every subject that we tell him. This kind of meeting will be a regular basis, two, three times a year. In the war time, the president paid attention to the youth, the next generation, we have to pay attention to their problems right now, no matter about the war. They are our future.”
The rest of the country, especially the eastern side, is under heavy-shelling though. “There's bombing every day. Kherson for example, cities are occupied by the enemy, so there is a different feeling.”
And the outlook for the future? “Makes you depressed sometimes but I've had some good trips to the capital, skating here in Odesa, meeting some people, who are doing the same thing, it's still nice. Feelings like I haven't felt before, like, we are one united nation here, being with my people is making me feel better. With that feeling, I almost don't care that I cannot surf. It is ok, and you're in it with your friends.
“What makes me feel that everything is going to be alright is; I watch the port of Odesa and the sea, I see some ships are coming in and out, same ships. Which means they're getting out and coming back and we're exporting stuff, so there's more money coming in. And day by day, there's more ships. Keeping busy, helping the team get to the USA, focussing on the future of surfing here in Ukraine, that's the motivation I need right now."
World Surfing Games WATCH HERE.