'I gave them opportunity to smile' – Ukraine's Mahuchikh proud of high jump gold amid Russia conflict

By Sports Desk March 28, 2022

Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh expressed her pride at claiming gold at the World Athletics Indoor Championships, hoping it showed the strength of her country amid conflict with Russia.

The 20-year-old had to undertake a three-day car journey from Dnipro to Serbia to reach the competition after her country was invaded by neighbouring Russia in late February. 

Mahuchikh, who managed bronze at last year's Olympics in Tokyo, produced a first-time clearance of 2.02m with her final attempt.

She revealed the psychological difficulties she had in leaving her homeland for Serbia after her winning efforts, and Mahuchikh has now suggested her performance embodied the strength of Ukraine.

"I received a lot of messages," she told BBC Sport. "It was like 'thank you that we are smiling'.

"They've had a lot of bad news; they're in a war. But when they see me winning, that I won the gold medal for my country, for Ukraine, it showed that Ukrainians are strong people.

"I gave them the opportunity to smile a little bit. It has been difficult [to focus] but I must do this and show to the world that Ukraine is a strong nation.

"We have strong people and we never give up and we will protect our independence and our freedom on all fronts."

Mahuchikh also detailed the ongoing struggles in her home country with her family split across Dnipro and Poland.

"It was a little bit frightening but after this I called my coach and we left Dnipro, and went to a village nearby, the home of my coach," she added.

"My family stayed in Dnipro in their flat but every day we saw each other. But it was so complicated to me when we decided to go to the World Championship. I didn't know when I would come back and see my relatives and my family.

"The Ukrainian Federation manager said it would be good to go abroad now, so we went to Moldova, Romania and then Belgrade.

"It was the longest trip that I have ever been on, three days by car. It was so difficult but we arrived in Belgrade on March 9 and the Serbian Federation said they would let us do some track and field training to recover."

Russian athletes are currently banned from competition as global sporting bodies continue to impose sanctions to deter further attacks, and Mahuchikh supports the decision.

"I think World Athletics made the right decision because Russian athletes must understand that Russia started the war," she continued.

"We shouldn't have to compete when our people and children are being killed by the Russian military, it's terrible. They must understand that Russia started the war, they were the aggressors."

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