The Ukrainian rowing team, which managed to compete in this year’s major international events despite the disruption and destruction caused by the Russian invasion, will conclude its resilient racing campaign three weekends from now by making its debut at the Head of the Charles Regatta.
“It’s important for Ukrainians to use any platform to remind people that the war is still going and that Ukraine is still fighting,” said Simmons crew coach Andrii Ivanchuk, who reached out to his former national teammates and urged them to come to Boston to show the flag at the world’s largest three-day regatta.
The Ukrainians, renowned for their sculling prowess, will bring a men’s and a women’s eight composed of the quads, a four, and a double that competed at last month’s World Championships in the Czech Republic, as well as a youth four.
The group includes Anastasiia Kozhenkova and Nataliya Dovgodko, who won the Olympic gold medal in the women’s quad in 2012; Sergii Gryn, who took bronze in the men’s quad in 2004; and Ivan Dovhodko and Oleksandr Nadtoka, who claimed the 2014 world title in the men’s quad.
“The fact that these guys are still able to train and compete is an inspiration to us all,” said Fred Schoch, the regatta’s longtime executive director. “We wanted to do something for them and celebrate their courage at the Head of the Charles.”
The national team, which was training in Turkey when the war began in late February, recently returned to Kyiv, where the rowing federation is based.
During the intervening months, the rowers were hosted by Turkey, Bulgaria, and Croatia, where they spent a month training in Zagreb before the initial World Cup event in Belgrade.
“All the countries where they stayed gave them big help,” said Ivanchuk.
The Ukrainians produced four medals at the European Championships in Munich in August — a bronze by the women’s quad of Dovgodko, Daryna Verkhogliad, Kateryna Dudchenko, and Yevheniia Dovhodko, plus three medals in the para events.
Then at the global regatta, the Ukrainians collected bronze in the men’s lightweight double, plus half a dozen para medals. The women’s quad placed fourth, the men’s four sixth, and the men’s quad and women’s double seventh.
Ivanchuk, who raced in multiple World Championships in sweep events and made the 2008 final in the coxed pair, contacted his former teammates who are still competing and sold them on the idea of capping an uplifting year by racing on the Charles.
Then Ivanchuk, whose Simmons crew will be competing in the women’s collegiate fours event, contacted Head of the Charles race director Brendan Mulvey, and the Ukrainians were added to the championship eights events, where they’ll compete Sunday afternoon (Oct. 23) against the top US college varsities as well as boats from England, Denmark, and Canada.
“The rowing community is very closely knit,” observed Schoch. “The Ukrainians’ country and their lives are being threatened. We rally around during these horrific occasions and lend a hand where we can.”
Delta Airlines is providing the rowers with free round-trip tickets from Europe. The Cambridge Office for Tourism has arranged for hotel rooms along the course. And Hudson Boat Works, based in Ontario, is supplying the racing shells and Vermont’s Concept2 the oars.
The rowers, who’ll arrive on Wednesday of race week, will attend a Thursday welcome reception at the Cambridge Boat Club.
With an estimated 10,000 Ukrainians living in Greater Boston, Ivanchuk expects a considerable cheering section along the riverbanks.
“The Head is a big event,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to race here and show who you are.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.