Ukraine’s Oleksandr Sulypa detests war and when it happened in his own backyard, he was forced to do territorial duty, taking a gun to guard a heavily barricaded road.
As Ukraine's men’s team captain for the 44th Chess Olympiad here, Oleksandr said he was devastated when he witnessed war causing damage to his country and leaving children homeless.
Sharing his own experiences, the 50-year-old Grandmaster says, “I took the gun on the first day of the war [between Russia and Ukraine]. I spent nearly two months in the territorial army (a military reserve component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine). I was patrolling the city, checking the cars. I saw homeless children. To be in a war zone is very difficult. I don't want [it]. It is not life.”
With a set of second-string players taking part in the Olympiad after top names pulled out of the event, Oleksandr said the team is happy to just participate.
“We understand there was a war and conditions were difficult. It is important for our country to take part [in the Olympiad]. We support chess. It is an honour to participate,” he said.
As players moved to other countries due to war, it was just not possible to assemble all the players in one place.
Explaining the situation, Oleksandr says, "our players: Andrei Volokitin takes refuge in Poland and Yuriy Kuzubov escaped to Bilbao (Spain) and Kirill Shevchenko lived for a few months in Germany. Volodymyr Onyshchuk remains safe. You know, our best player here, Anton Korobov lost two of his apartments (to the bombings) in Kharkiv. His family is, however, safe." For the safety of his own family, Oleksandr sent his daughter away to Poland last month.
According to the Ukraine captain, the main challenge was to ensure the team remains mentally stable. “My main task is to ensure players are in a strong psychological position."
Asked about the motivation to come here, Oleksandr replies, “We are the reigning European team champions. When we can participate I failed to understand why others cannot.”
Add to the arduous journey to reach here, all the players have spent money from their own pockets necessary for the Olympiad. “We spend some money for tickets, visas, and Covid-19 protocols, mostly from our pockets. After the event, they (Ukraine Chess Federation) will, I think, reimburse,” he says.
“No”, said Oleksandr, when asked whether the situation in Ukraine has improved now. "It can be dangerous at any moment. I don’t understand the war. It is something strange,” he says.