UCO tennis star Karina details her life during Russia-Ukraine war

Karina (right) reunites with her friend in Ukraine after a year (KARINA YURCHENKO/PROVIDED)

Dreams of peace and the end of the war remain strong for the people of Ukraine, relying on the hope that their government will stay strong and continue protecting the innocent 1 1/2 years later. 

University of Central Oklahoma tennis star, sophomore Karina Yurchenko, explained how different things are in Ukraine now, after returning to her war-torn hometown of Irpin this past summer. 

Heading home, away from her now-normal life on campus was shocking to some, “Multiple times people asked me, “is it safe?” Yes, I was 100% sure. I love being here at UCO, but it feels different than actually being home,” Yurchenko said. 

“I felt so much freedom being home. I fixed all my health problems, had all the homemade food I wanted, bought all the groceries I missed, went to dance classes, met all of my friends and went to my favorite places,” she said.

“It was a breath of fresh air, especially after my tough year of school and sports.” 

Despite these struggles, Karina learned a lot about herself and grew exponentially, winning the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s regional singles B-draw tournament in Edmond on Sunday.

Just outside of Kyiv, in her hometown of Irpin, Karina gave her grandparents the surprise of a lifetime and the best birthday present her grandfather could ever ask for, “It was 11 o’ clock at night and I’m knocking on the door…they were so happy to see me and I think it was the best surprise I’ve ever made for someone,” she said. 

Many Ukrainians proudly represent their country at home. Through hope, mental fortitude and a positivity towards life, these are the only things keeping them sane during these unrelenting attacks by the Russian government. 

Battles within Ukraine and Russia persist over 570 days later. Three people were killed and at least nine were wounded by Russian troops in Zaporizhzhia southeast Ukraine regions and further South Kherson regions on Sunday, according to Ukrainian officials. Over 430 miles away, a Ukrainian drone strike was repelled by Russia defenses in the Tula region South of Moscow early Monday morning.

A damaged building in Karina’s hometown of Irpin, (KARINA YURCHENKO/PROVIDED)

While taking the bus to Irpin, Karina noted the adaptability of people and the strangeness on the streets, “You look left and see a park, people are laughing, dancing, having food and drinks, living regular lives. Then, you turn your head right and you see destroyed houses and scorched cars. It forces you to face reality,” Karina said.

“One day this summer I decided to travel by bike to another part of Irpin, where my life basically started. At some point I heard an air alert siren and freaked out. I looked at the people around me and they didn’t care. Their mindset right now is if it’s meant to be, then you can’t escape from your destiny.”

When Karina got to the other side of the city, she was terrified, “When you see pictures on TV or your phone screen, it looks bad, but when you see it in real-life at full scale, it’s impossible to find words to express your feelings. I was crying,” she said.

“People can adapt to anything, which is a good ability I guess. They have to move on and accept the fact of war, otherwise it would be impossible not to lose your mind.”

Since the war broke out in February 2022, children are now back in school, people have more jobs, even businesses are opening. 

“This time in Ukraine showed that we have to live in the present moment and not delay things for later,” Karina said. 

“I understand students’ situations. Broke, busy, don’t have spare food, clothes or medicine to donate, I get it. People think donations need to be a huge amount of money, but that’s incorrect. Let’s say UCO has 10,000 people enrolled. If all of them donate just $10, that’s already $100,000. With this money, you can save so many lives,” Karina said.

“You can choose how you want to help people or animals affected by war.”

Winter is coming and there you can donate to children and soldiers who need warm clothes, food and medical treatments. Or you can help feed the thousands of cats and dogs that lost their homes after the hydro-electric dam was bombed. Donations can go towards a variety of different causes and organizations, including Razom, UNICEF and United24. 

Ukraine will not give up in its fight for independence. With about half a million casualties so far, more innocent people and soldiers will die until Russia’s attacks subside. Karina hopes to return to a peaceful, independent Ukraine next summer, but it still seems like there is no end in sight to the war. 

No matter what happens, Karina is already waiting to return once again,“At the end of the break, I didn’t want to go back, but I had to. I can’t wait for next summer.”

Share This