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Andriy Protsenko- High jumper, who fled Russian invasion, stayed in remote places, now won bronze at world championships


The high jumper Andriy Protsenko, who won bronze at the world athletic championships, shouldn’t have even been there. A few months back, trapped in the war, the Ukrainian Protsenko was scanning the Telegram channels.

People who were fleeing the war zone used the cloud-based instant messaging service to discuss their plans – possible undetected routes of escape that can hoodwink the Russians. Protsenko made his first move, with his friends.

“Our first attempt to leave was not successful, because there were already hostilities on the way we were going to do it. After that, we packed our suitcases and waited for a new route to appear,” he told the Ukrainian site Suspilne Sport. His luck would turn, a new route turned up on Telegram. He still had to contend with seven Russians-manned checkpoints. And he had two young kids.

“ I couldn’t leave immediately and spent a month in the occupation. We were able to leave and after overcoming seven checkpoints of the Russians, we reached the territory controlled by Ukraine. And only after I left the occupation, I was able to train more or less normally.” Protsenko left his hometown in the Kherson region,  along with his wife Katerina and two daughters, Sofia (5) and Polina (9 months).

Andriy Protsenko, Andriy Protsenko Ukraine, Andriy Protsenko story, Andriy Protsenko high jump, World Athletics Andriy Protsenko, of Ukraine, competes during in the men’s high jump final at the World Athletics Championships on Monday, July 18, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

It was February, still five months away from the world championships at Oregon. He was safe but without any access to proper training. No equipment, even.

Protsenko improvised, and did jugaad. Photographs show a brick home in the middle of nowhere, barren landscape with fields for miles. Protsenko found a bar, added car tyres to act as his weightlifting exercise equipment. He did plyometric exercises ( pushups, throwing, running, jumping, and kicking), and sprinted in the local field.

“There was no high jumping, but I found the possibility to run. It was not so difficult to find something to create the equipment. The main thing was to find the motivation to train – but fortunately I could do it,” he told worldathletics.org .

In February, he had left his hometown with a single bag, and now the village side first he had moved to had also proved dangerous.

“Everything is relative, but at first it was like a silence. That village was relatively safe but then the Russian military (approached it) and we understood it’s time (to leave),” he told worldathetics.org. He left for the west of Ukraine on April 13. “When we changed city I could train maximum four times a week. But it was not the training athletes usually do.”

Finally, he got out to Portugal, then to Spain, where he was helped by the respective sports federations. His family is currently in France, helped by the aid agencies, and he will soon reunite with them. Their plan is to move to Poland as his coach is based in that country with a few other Ukrainian athletes.

On Monday night, on his seventh appearance at the world championships, all that ingeniousness paid off – he won the bronze in the men’s high-jump final with a jump of 2.33m. What’s more, it was a seven-centimetre improvement on his season’s best.

The gold-medal winner Qatar’s great Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won his third world title with a clearance of 2.37m, led the raves. “He’s a champion,” Barshim said. “He fought, despite everything he’d been going through. He showed up and produced a performance. It wasn’t easy for him but he’s up here, a medallist – you’ve got to give him that.”

Another high-jumper, the Italian Gianmarco Tamberi, who shared the gold with Barshim at the last Olympics and was placed fourth this time, behind Protsenko. In March, in an athletic event, Tamberi had shown his support by plastering an Ukrainian flag on his right shoulder and had also written the name of Protsenko and Bodhan Bondarenko, who couldn’t be there due to the conflict.

And what does Protsenko have to say about his stunning achievement?  “I just gathered myself to show this result at the right moment.”

 





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