Her first qualification run on Friday was not one of her best; truth be told, far from it. But Viktoriia Us had a pretty good excuse for feeling exhausted and distracted.

Since February her country has been under attack by Russian forces. Every morning, barely awake, the 29-year-old Ukrainian reaches for her phone, dreading what she might read. Some nights she has barely slept.

She is incredibly grateful of the international canoe family, who have rallied around her and other Ukrainian athletes during these dreadful times. Despite all the distractions, the fear and the stress, Us has somehow managed to keep training, a welcome distraction for her from the daily nightmare unfolding in her real world.

Her family are still in Ukraine. Her mother is refusing to leave.

“It’s been a very hard time for me,” Us said in Prague on Friday.

“We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t believe it could happen. I read a lot of bad news about what is happening in my city, it’s so hard.

I had to do what I could and do what I do best

“I was scared because all my family stayed in Ukraine. I called them all to make sure they were okay, they were scared a lot. They were woken by rockets.

“My mum, even when it was a very difficult time in Kyiv, she decided to stay home. She has always been at home, and she said ‘it’s my land, it’s my house, I will not leave.”

Viktoriia Us has been to two Olympics, but its unlikely she has had more challenging days on the water then she experienced in Prague on Friday.

It was hard for me to eat, to sleep, to do anything normal

In her first K1 journey she picked up two gate touches and was generally all over the shop. She missed the top 20 automatic qualifiers by one place, but still with a second chance to make things right.

Her next run was serviceable, if not brilliant, but easily good enough to progress to Saturday’s semi-finals.

By the afternoon, and with all the nerves and anxiety out of her system, Us was, incredibly, back on top of her game. Second fastest on the course in the women’s C1, a gate touch pushing her down to third overall. Behind her the Olympic gold and silver medalists.

It was a massive weight off her shoulders, albeit momentarily.

“For the first weeks it was hard for me to focus, it was hard for me to eat, to sleep, to do anything normal,” Us said.

“But then I knew I had to be healthy, I had to do what I could and do what I do best. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but I have a place to stay in France and I am enjoying my paddling again.

“I still spend all day reading the news, wondering what is happening in my city, if my family are safe. I’m worrying about my friends who are fighting, who stayed home to help the army. All Ukrainians are part of this war, it’s changed the lives of Ukrainian people.

“I worry about my country, because I want to see it free and independent, and rising again.”

The International Canoe Federation and the world paddling community is continuing to support Ukrainian athletes and their families, working to make sure they can be safe during this conflict. To add you support, please visit our donations page.

Pics by Dezso Vekassy


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