Ukrainian biathletes training at Pokljuka, thankful for aid

Pokljuka – Around 50 Ukrainian biathletes and accompanying staff continue to train at Slovenia’s Pokljuka, where they have found a safe haven from the war in their country. They could not praise the local club and Slovenia enough for the reception they have enjoyed as they brought heart-breaking war stories with themselves.

“Thank you for the warm reception,” former member of the Ukrainian national team Jana Romanenko said at an media availability event at Pokljuka on Monday.

For her, Slovenia was a lifeline in the most critical moments of her life. “When the war started, I was six months pregnant. My husband had to join the army, I had problems with my pregnancy.”

When she was offered the opportunity to go to Slovenia, she did not hesitate for a moment. “I knew that healthcare in Slovenia was good and I that would like to give birth in Slovenia,” said Romanenko, who is due to give birth in June.

She is even more impressed by her biathlon friends in Slovenia who have provided her with a safe haven. “I have been exceptionally well received here. I got accommodation and medical care in the most difficult moments,” Romanenko said.

She cannot completely forget about what is going on in her homeland, and she is concerned the most about her husband, who is safe for the time being. “He is alive and well and he is not currently involved in combat operations.”

In addition to Darya Blashko, Nastya Merkuschyna and Yuliia Dzhima, almost half of the active biathlon team is at Pokljuka. Blashko was among the first to arrive in Slovenia. She hails from Chernihiv, one of the first targets of Russian attacks.

“We returned from the Olympics when the attack on Ukraine started. It was horrific. After a long journey we made it to Pokljuka and immediately received full aid. We have been enjoying excellent conditions for two months,” she said.

Head coach Olexander Bilanenko said that after the Olympics, the season had been cut short as the entire men’s team and half of the women’s team had been called up for reserve. “We have found a refuge for the rest of the team in Slovenia.”

He said that, when the war started, biathlon was not in the forefront at all. “The most important thing is that the young avoid direct psychological and emotional pressure brought by the immediate scenes of war atrocities.”

“I’m thankful to Slovenia that they did not see and hear that,” Bilanenko said, also thanking the Slovenian Olympic Committee and sponsors for helping with paperwork and providing conditions for training.

He noted that the Ukrainian team were accepted “not only as refugees, but as people” and that young athletes were enabled to travel around the country, meet their Slovenian peers, spend active free time outdoors and even get some work.