Ukraine Aid up close

Sport connects. This statement has never been truer than today

Stefan with Olena, Egor and Lora in the new flat.

Already a few years ago, while people were seeking a safe life in Germany as they fled, SV Westfalen got involved with a water polo tournament in which the "refugee" Syrian national water polo team took part.

Now a call for help came from Ukraine. SV Westfalen Dortmund is known there for its Swim Race Days. Stefan Ryschawy received this call for help. He summarised his experiences in the following article.

We thank Stefan for his commitment and all those who helped him take care of his family.

Report by Stefan

Among the participants of the Swim Race Days 2019 was the then 10-year-old Egor from Ukraine. Together with his parents, he visited Dortmund and was so enthusiastic that he wanted to come again in 2020. However, the family had to cancel this visit due to the emerging Corona pandemic.

Nevertheless, contact with me has not broken off. Last December, I was asked if the Race Days would take place again in 2022, they would love to come. Unfortunately, I had to say no.

Then came 24 February 2022 - the war in Ukraine broke out. Only a few days later I received a call for help from Egor's mother Lora: "Three years ago we enjoyed your competitions, and today we are staying in the cellars, it is hell in Ukraine!". She went on to write that she was five months pregnant and would be in the car with Egor, her mother, a cat and a small dog. "We are planning to leave, we don't know where and how long it will take to get to the border, but we have to try." She asked me if I could help her find accommodation in Dortmund or the surrounding area while her husband "has to fight in Kiev". It took me less than two minutes to offer her my and our support and help.


Lora described her departure to me like this:

"24 February, the morning starts like a normal working day. The alarm clock rings, get up, listen to the news and understand 'war'! Your brain can't believe it, yesterday a normal evening wishing you a good night and today everything is different: mean, naughty, dirty... a 'neighbour' has stormed into your house without reason or invitation. The city is frozen in traffic jams and the 30-minute drive now takes half a day. People are afraid of the unknown."


What happened next was simply unbelievable! A quick appeal via email and WhatsApp and the wave of support started. That very evening I received an offer of a flat from Gelsenkirchen, and a day later one for Dortmund, which I then decided on. And while the flat was being renovated over the last two weeks, more and more donations came in from friends, acquaintances, association members and friends of the association: Furniture for all rooms, ceiling and table lamps, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, bed linen, hoovers, towels, kitchen utensils, glasses, even a bicycle and a notebook for Egor were given. Assistance with translation, a Covid vaccination and questions about social welfare were also offered. All this shows that sport is not just about competing with each other. Sport connects people and nations. Sport breaks down borders. The helpfulness and support I experienced also represents the social and societal importance of sport and the club. And it also shows how important friends are!

In the meantime, Egor, his mother Lora and his grandma Olena made their way to Germany. "Our first decision was to go to our country house, out of Kiev. It seemed and the best option, but we were wrong. The house is located between the towns of Gostomel and Borodyanka, which were the first to be bombed. After a sleepless night, we decided to leave within five minutes. Let's go... where to? How far? How long? All unknown. I thought 'What is to be done? What should we do?' There were many thoughts in my head, but which one should I listen to? Stefan. I don't know why, but that name flashed in my head. After writing an email, I didn't expect a reaction immediately, it was an attempt to protect my children. But the reaction was immediate! Apparently there is someone up there in heaven who loves me!"


On their way out of Kiev to the Polish border, they repeatedly encountered several Russian battle tanks and fighter jets.  Detonations were also unmistakable. After several hours, they reached the border, where they remained for another 27 hours. After two more nights in the car in the Krakow and Dresden area, they finally reached Dortmund after a good 1200 kilometres at around 5 p.m. on 7 March.


"Now we are on our way. It was a difficult journey. For the first time I have to drive for more than 24 hours. But I had no other choice, I didn't know where to get the strength from either. Dortmund - joy, tears, we made it! Stefan and Stefan again! After three years back in the Südbad and again in March!"


Since their flat was not yet ready for occupancy, they first got accommodation with Kirsten and Jörg Husemann. In the basement of their house, they have prepared a room in which Egor, Lora and Olena are equipped with the most necessary things and can provide for themselves as far as possible. Here they have been able to recover from the strains of the flight in the first few days.


"We have been told all our lives that Russians and Ukrainians are brothers, but that turns out to be completely different now. By one man - Putin. But the Germans are closer to us than our brothers. It is impossible to put our gratitude into words! Stefan, Jörg, Kirsten, Saskia, Moritz, Katharina, Natalia and many many people who were nothing to us have become everything to us! The club, the team - you can't learn that. A sports team is a real family - close, kind, friendly. Thank you for everything! We could not even dream of such an attitude!"


Walks in the Romberg and Westfalen parks as well as at the Phönixsee brought some normality into their everyday life, which is nevertheless marked by fears and worries about their home and especially about Misha, Lora's husband and Egor's father. "And today, of course, my morning starts with a call to my husband in Kiev. It's important for me to hear his voice because it means he's alive."


A visit to South Bath, where familiar faces from 2019 were present, has also taken place. The joy of seeing "old acquaintances" again was naturally great. The visit to Dortmund Zoo provided further variety. A highlight for Egor was the UEFA Youth League match between BVB and Atletico Madrid in the stadium - with stadium sausage and a Coke, of course (and the latter in a cup with the picture of his favourite player Erling Haaland). Of course, Egor has already been given the matching jersey. Lora thanked him by saying "thank you for my son's sparkling eyes!"


Lora has already gone to the social welfare office. Now the next step is an appointment with the foreigners authority. Among other things, they will discuss Egor's school attendance. Until then, he has "home-schooling" with his teacher from Kiev two or three times a week. And it's also learning time for Lora and Olena. They have registered for a German course through MigraDo and have already completed the first three double lessons.

The final step is to move into her own flat. The renovation is complete, only the sanitary facilities are still to be renewed. Most of the furniture is already set up, lamps installed and a little decorated. And thanks to the donations I have received, I will be able to hand over the flat with a full fridge.


"To this day, some of my friends already don't have houses anymore. Rockets just flew into them and it is not known what will happen to them now. I hope that this hell in Kiev will end soon and I will see my husband again. But now it is my job to carry our baby under my heart, to take care of my eldest son and to pray for her father!"

*** Translated with (free version) ***