A sports journalist in Ukraine fights for freedom with a laptop

Ukrainian sports journalist Iryna Koziupa was on the hunt, looking for a psychologist to discuss how people can maintain their sanity during war, a time when day-to-day worries are overtaken by anxiety over missiles, landmines and snipers.

When your country has been invaded, all journalists, even those who cover the lighter side of life, become war reporters.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Koziupa led a virtual tour of her family home in Ternopil and stopped by her desk, covered in a tangle of hairbrushes and cellphone cords.

“I’m sorry it’s a mess,” she said with a nervous laugh. “My mother kept asking me all day to clean it, but I said, ‘I’m a refugee. I have to live in the mess!’ »

She continued, staring at her phone’s camera on a display case – overflowing with Soviet-era ceramic figurines with a bottle of wine, half empty from a New Year celebration – before turning to a photo of his younger brother Dmytro when he married. daytime. He has since taken up arms in the besieged capital of kyiv.

Koziupa works as a sports journalist for the Ukrainian website Tribuna and until recently she lived in Kyiv. At 6 a.m. on February 24, as Russian tanks and soldiers crossed the border, his phone rang.

“My friend called me saying, ‘What are you doing? Are you OK? The war has started,” Koziupa said.

He took the time to make his bed before getting dressed: “I thought to myself, ‘My God, at least if they bomb, I should be dressed.'”

Preparing to leave Kyiv, she packed a bag containing 700 hryvnia (about $30 Canadian), a small bottle of water, cookies, her passport and the book “Get Her Off The Pitch”, the story of Lynne Truss of his rocky journey around the world. sports journalism.

In better times, Koziupa wrote about sport in a country where football is an obsession. His website reported on Russian-born Ukraine national team player Andriy Yarmolenko, a West Ham star of the English Premier League, and documented the triumphs of Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, 25, l one of the first sportsmen to use social networks. media to condemn the Russian invasion.

“We won’t give up! Glory to Ukraine,” Zinchenko wrote in a recent Instagram post.

Just two days before Russian tanks and soldiers crossed into Ukraine, Koziupa and four friends donned cocktail dresses and headed to the theater in kyiv.

“Right before the war, I had the feeling that our country was finally beginning to recover,” Koziupa said. “We started living very good, very normal lives with everything you need…I even bought a ticket to Imagine Dragons for this summer.”

Koziupa said she felt privileged to be a journalist in Ukraine, so she could bear witness to her country’s pain. Although she is ready to take up arms, she believes that journalists play an important role.

“I am now fighting for the freedom of Ukraine with my phone, with my laptop,” she said. “This is my front line. Wars are not only fought with weapons and with tanks and bombs.

Koziupa now writes about athletes who have joined home defense. There is an abundance of material.

  • Recently retired tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky, 36, returned to Ukraine from Budapest and joined the armed forces. Stakhovsky beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013.
  • Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir, both former world heavyweight boxing champions, took up arms with current champion Oleksandr Usyk, who dropped out of training for a lucrative fight in London to fight the Russians .
  • The International Biathlon Union reported on March 2 that 19-year-old biathlete Yevhen Malyshev was killed while serving in the Ukrainian army.

For Koziupa, there is a surrealism in grief and loss.

“It’s difficult, because first of all you can’t imagine that everything is really happening. Maybe it’s a movie, maybe it’s just a bad dream,” she said. “I just had my coffee in the morning and I’m like, ‘OK boss, I’m here. What should I write?’ I need something to write.

Before the war, Koziupa had battled a serious illness for three years. When she recovered, she received a message from her doctor.

“He said, ‘You have a second chance in your life, make no mistake. Just enjoy your life. Not everyone gets another chance,” she said.

Shortly after that clean bill of health, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. And now the war.

Koziupa continued visiting his family home. Next to the photo of his brother and his wife was a letter from his niece and nephew, who wrote that they loved him the most. Then she looked at the camera and explained the meaning of the ceramic figurines.

“It was all expensive, hard to get,” she said. “My grandmother was proud of this collection. This is not helpful; it’s just in the past.

Ukraine need not look far into its past to find echoes of the conflict we see today. Koziupa and the people of Ukraine face an uncertain future and try to find modest measures of joy in the midst of war.

“Meetings with friends, good coffee, good chats with new people. I’m just trying to take advantage of what you have,” she said, “because you really can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

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