We first met Dmytro Hula, two seat of the Ukrainian quad, last fall in Boston. Hula was part of the 28 Ukrainian athletes the Head of the Charles brought to the 2022 regatta to help raise awareness for the continuing war with Russia--and they will be back this fall to race again.
We caught up with Hula in the boatyard this week to find out how the Ukrainian team has been training this year, what conditions are like in Kyiv and his hometown of Kherson, and what it means to represent Ukraine internationally during the war.
Hula and his wife have a small child, who was just three months old when they fled to the border at the start of the war. The family now lives with him abroad when he trains, and has been staying in Plovdiv during these championships. They are safe, he says, but of course he wishes he could bring his family back to his home country and his hometown without having to fear for their safety.
row2k: What can you tell us about the past year, since we met in Boston? What has it been like for you and how has the team been training for these Championships?
Dmytro Hula: After Boston, we returned back to Kyiv as we planned, and we had winter preparation there until February. It was a bit tough. We were lucky that we were at the Olympic [center]. We had generators, so they could cook for us and we had some electricity and hot water. Most of the time, everything was completely dark except for the canteen where we ate. When we trained on the ergs, nothing was lit but the displays on our ergs to let us do the training. It was a bit frightening sometimes because it is in the suburbs of Kyiv, and the air defense was right around it. Sometimes at five o'clock in the morning, we got up from the explosions from the air defense working, and the Russians bombed our power plant that was not far away.
row2k Photo of the Day from 12/13/22. Photo by Kherson region Rowing Federation President Igor Garagulya, taken at Ukrainian National Training Center in Koncha-Zaspa, near Kyiv.
I have friends in a music band in Kyiv, that is quite popular in Europe. They had a recording studio, right near the plant and it was destroyed. They were doing a recording just 10 or 15 minutes before that, and they went to the shelter and they were lucky to be able to escape from that.
That was our winter preparation and right in the beginning of February, we went to Banyoles in Spain and started our water preparation. We had our trials, made all the crews, and had a wonderful time in Spain. The Spanish Federation gave us everything. All that we could ask and need, we had.
We had our national trials there, then we moved to Croatia for a month. We had a warm welcome there and raced the World Cup, then went to Bled for European Championships. For us in the quad, we made the final and it was quite a good result. Then we went over to Plovdiv, as we did last year as well, and we spent three months in Bulgaria. Very warm welcome and we are absolutely grateful to the Spanish Federation, the Croatian Federation and the Bulgarian Federation for having us there. There was quite a lot of heat [in Plovdiv], but we did our training sessions really early in the morning and then did all the gym workouts in the evening.
Hula in Boston last fall
That was the progression. The hardest thing was of course in Kyiv. When when we were far away from the city, and had some generators, warm food and normally there was hot water and you can charge your devices somewhere, it's one thing but when I get into the car and go to the city, it's completely dark. My relatives and friends say that they had one hour of electricity per day sometimes. So it was crazy and understanding that it's intentional and that those who said that we will free you, we're your friends and we are freeing you from some so-called regime. They just fire missiles at you so that kids don't have warm food. It's hard.
My teammate in the beginning of the season, who just won the European Beach Sprints in the quad, lives far away from Kyiv and his wife is still there. He has two kids. One is four years old and the other is a bit more than one year old. They were without electricity for three days straight. It's impossible to imagine that.
Before the war we usually went rowing somewhere to the warmer countries in winter and spring, just to have on water training, and it's possible to row in Kyiv but still, with the air raid alerts and you can't go under most of the bridges. You can train on the rowing channel but it's difficult.
It's more complicated [in Kyiv]. You go, for example, to have a snack or to have a lunch somewhere in a restaurant and then the air raid alert starts and you have to wait until it stops. So this makes it more difficult. Of course, in terms of morale and especially for the women on the team, it's hard. and more emotional. The girls on our team experience it harder. they have more emotions.
During the M4x semi here in Belgrade
row2k: There must be people on the team who have family members in the fighting or living in parts of the country that are occupied or were the fighting is happening, right?
Dmytro Hula: Yes, and that's so for me. [Soon after] we returned from Boston, I was in the gym training and I saw a video of a Ukrainian pickup truck driving across my city, Kherson. That was a city that had been occupied. The 11th of November is the date when Russians left, left my city and I was just quietly crying. I still have some emotions about it. Yeah. It was awesome, a wonderful feeling.
My first coach, who is also the uncle of my father, he was under occupation the whole time, and he was finally free. We met him about one week after that, he came to Kyiv. It was such a relief to see him. It was wonderful.
We had celebrations in our city. The Russians were just two kilometers away, but people danced around the main square for three days and nights straight in Kherson. After that, quite severe shelling started from Russia and now every day someone is killed, especially in some districts. My home is okay, our district is a bit further from that, but some districts are severely damaged.
My rowing club was fully damaged after they destroyed the Kherson dam. It was flooded because it's in the very low part of the city. So it's all so hard to watch, but of course people are quite inspired and it's still it's much better than to have Russians wandering around streets with machine guns.
Hula, in the 2 seat, racing the Charles in 2022
row2k: Does the Ukrainian team talk about how being here and competing--flying the Ukrainian flag--is an important role?
Dmytro Hula: It's really that our military and our soldiers inspire us. Knowing that back in our country, people are doing such important things, you try to do everything here that and influence that as much as you can. We try to wave our flag and proudly represent our country as best as we can.
The soldiers are true heroes, really. When I see videos of battles, I understand how much braver they are than us here, how much bolder the things are that they do. I would never be brave enough to do such things. So they're true heroes.