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regular-article-logo Monday, 26 February 2024

Olympian Abramenko takes refuge in Kyiv garage

Beyond his newly minted silver medal, he won a gold medal in 2018

John Branch Published 06.03.22, 02:22 AM
 Silver medallist Oleksandr Abramenko of Ukraine celebrates on the podium during the victory ceremony for Freestyle Skiing Aerials during the Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on February 17.

Silver medallist Oleksandr Abramenko of Ukraine celebrates on the podium during the victory ceremony for Freestyle Skiing Aerials during the Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on February 17. Getty Images

Sixteen days earlier, Oleksandr Abramenko was in China, celebrating his silver medal — the only medal of any kind won by Ukraine at the Beijing Winter Games.

Abramenko, a top aerialist in freestyle skiing, a five-time Olympian and the country’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremony, garnered more attention after the event, when a photograph of his hug with a Russian rival was widely circulated.

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On Friday night in Kyiv, Abramenko, 33, was in the parking garage of his apartment building with his wife, Alexandra, and their 2-year-old son, Dmitry.

Thousands of people have been attempting to flee the city, leading to large crowds and chaos at Kyiv’s main train station as Ukraine’s military said that the Russian army’s primary objective was to encircle the capital.

During a text conversation with The New York Times, Abramenko had someone snap a photograph of his family, sitting on a mattress while bundled against the cold. Dmitry sucked on a pacifier.

It was their seventh night sleeping in the garage, believing it to be safer than their 20th-floor apartment above, not far from the city’s major airport.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko wrote during the exchange.

“It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defence systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

By Friday, amid the scramble to abandon Kyiv, Abramenko knew it was time to leave, headed for some unknown future. The family planned to drive to the western edge of Ukraine, near the borders of Slovakia and Hungary. In the best of times, it could take 10 hours.

“I plan to go to my coach, Enver Ablaev, he lives in Mukachevo, Transcarpathian region,” Abramenko said. “I go by car, I take essential things with me, food, and my Olympic medals.”

Beyond his newly minted silver medal, Abramenko won a gold medal in 2018.

The small world of aerials is trying to provide comfort. Athletes from Switzerland, including the former Olympic freestyle skier Andreas Isoz, have been raising funds and planned to go this weekend to Mukachevo, or as close as they could get near the Ukrainian border, to hand off supplies.

Abramenko is not sure what the coming days will bring. He is worried for his parents, who live in Mykolaiv, a port city on the Black Sea where Abramenko was raised. It sits between the occupied city of Kherson and Odessa, expected to be a key target of the Russians.

“Fighting is already underway in Nikolaev,” Abramenko wrote, using an alternate spelling for the city. “My parents are sitting at home and hearing explosions. It is dangerous to leave Nikolaev at the moment, they want to be there. Might be able to leave later.”

Abramenko’s quest is to get to Mukachevo “to think about my next steps”. He is unsure if his wife and son will head across the border as refugees, like more than a million other Ukrainians. He just knows that, like all men his age, he cannot leave Ukraine.

“I don’t know if I’ll go to war or not, I don’t know what process the guys who are being called up are going through,” he wrote. “At the moment, our army is fully coping with the offensives of Russian soldiers and equipment.”

After a couple of hours of sporadic messaging, the replies from Abramenko in Kyiv stopped. It was close to midnight there.

Non-stop cyber raids

Ukrainian websites have been under nonstop attack from Russian hackers since the Kremlin launched an invasion of the country last month, Kyiv’s cyber watchdog agency said on Saturday.

In a post to Twitter, Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection said that “Russian hackers keep on attacking Ukrainian information resources nonstop”.

The agency said that sites belonging to the presidency, parliament, the cabinet, the ministry of defence and the ministry of internal affairs were among those hit by distributed denials of service (DDoS) which work by directing a firehose of traffic towards targeted servers in a bid to knock them offline.

The agency said the sites were so far weathering the storm.

“We will endure! On the battlefields and in the cyberspace!” it said.

Russia’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.

In the past, Russia has denied it has been behind cyber attacks, including ones affecting US elections.

Russian sites have also been hammered with DDoS attacks.

New York Times News Service and Reuters

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