The Ukrainian Rugby Federation has published a remarkable interview with Olga Surkova, the manager of the Ukrainian women's rugby team, head of the women's rugby committee of the Ukrainian Rugby Federation, referee and children's rugby coach, who was forced to leave Odessa with her son during the Russian-Ukrainian war. But, despite the temporary change of residence, Olga not only found an opportunity to do be involved with rugby, but continues to study and develop.
Followers of European Sevens may know Olga better as Olga Blunutsa, captain of the Ukraine 7s team for many years.
We have translated the full interview.
Olga, I know that you are now in France. Tell our readers about how you got to this country, what was the road to the city where you are now, are you all right?
Yes, fortunately, I and my son Yegor are fine. We are located in the French city of Perigueux (administrative centre of the Dordogne department). But we didn't get here right away.
First we went to my rugby friends in the capital of Moldova, Chisinau. Then we went to other rugby friends of mine - to Bucharest - from where we flew to Paris. For a while we were in one of the villages built in the English style. There are a lot of English people, gorgeous nature, while we were there - I watched with interest the life of this village, studied everything. And then there was our move to Perigueux
There is an rugby academy in the city, and we have been invited to join them during the war. It is just a crazy rugby infrastructure. The rugby structure is incredibly successful here, the hierarchy - from the youngest rugby groups to the professional team playing in the Federal 1 - the elite division of the French Championship
I understand that you used to know the staff of this academy? Did you meet at international tournaments where you refereed?
Everything is much simpler: last summer, representatives of the aademy paid a working visit to Kherson, where we met during seminars and workshops. Coaches Thomas and Jeremy initiated me to move to Perigueux and continue to do what I did in Odessa in peacetime. They have been watching me for a long time and are convinced that I have talent, so that's how it turned out.
How were you received?
They were very warm and friendly. In any country in the world, I feel that the rugby family is not a myth, but a reality. And it's not just about Odessa or Ukraine. I was given the opportunity to observe the training process of local coaches, attend the training of rugby players of all ages, learn everything, participate in School League matches, this is a mass tournament. I was also invited to join the local women's rugby 15 team. They literally "pulled" me to try their hand as a player.
Are we waiting for Olga Surkova to return to the rugby field?
You know, for all my love for rugby, I decided last year to end my playing career. I continue to develop as a coach, as a judge, as a manager, but not as a player. But not everything is so simple here: even the referee of the international category will not be allowed to work on the matches of the French championship without knowledge of the French language. That's why I've been studying French for three weeks.
What support have you had from Moldovans, Romanians and the French?
I feel support throughout the wartime - from Chisinau to the way everything is happening now in France. We are supported, in solidarity with us, all this is very positive, optimistic, we believe in victory, we try not to stop, we will develop, and then return to our homeland and continue to do what we love.
You went with your son, but what about your relatives who stayed in Ukraine?
As you know, my husband Ivan continues to work in Odessa, but he and his team actively help the military and territorial defence every day, preparing hundreds of lunches. I am very proud of Vanya, I wish him strength and health. As for my relatives, some of them remained in my native Voznesensk, and my brother defends Nikolaev.
Despite the security, it is must be difficult to be in a foreign country, knowing what horrors happen in Ukraine every day.
Of course… I constantly think about what is happening in my country, every morning starts the same way - by checking all messages, social networks, watching news. I react very painfully to the fact that explosions are heard all over the country and hundreds, thousands of people are killed.
I have friends in literally every region, most of them through rugby. I try to communicate with everyone, learn about the news, support everyone, but from every news is that rugby players are dying somewhere.
It's very scary, it's hard to even find the words… Incredibly painful what is happening, I'm very upset, as I say in all the interviews in France. But at the same time, I am trying to convey to the whole of Europe, to the whole world, that Ukraine will definitely win, that the war will end soon and we will return home, we will make every effort to that after our victory everything was even better than before. Ukraine is the strongest nation, it has already proved it to the whole world.
I saw on your pages on social networks that you take an active part in the training of local young rugby players.
Last Friday I received a licence that allows me to work in French rugby - to play, train and referee. I am currently preparing to sign a contract to work at the academy. My son Yegor also received his licence and went to the first grade of rugby school. He is already training and playing, and I was given the opportunity to participate in the training process.
Your grandfather Yegor is a rugby veteran, your dad is a current rugby player, your mum is a former rugby player, now your son’s turn?
Yes, he gave hope literally from nappies (laughs), in Odessa he trained with my players, and here he quickly adapted, he really likes everything, Yegor goes to rugby school at the academy, and attends two groups at once - for children under six and eight years old. He feels good at both, the coaches are happy with him, and I am insanely happy with his success in performing the tasks, his technicality. And this is just the beginning!
Let's return to the language issue. How do you communicate with colleagues and children in training?
I speak English, I am gradually learning French, I already know the basic phrases and terms, but, I admit, it is very difficult, the language is difficult, it is very difficult for me. The language issue is important, because most children do not know English, only French. So my best friend here right now is Google Translate! He helps me absolutely everywhere. And if I go out to train, I don't need any language to understand what's going on. Only rugby. The main thing is love for rugby, dedication, to do everything with the soul, with an open heart, then you feel everything on the field, automatically react to many things - gestures, running partners, "manners", here we are talking - no problem.
I saw that Ukraine is actively supported in rugby matches in France, you can see the flags of our country in the stands…
Yes, that's right. One of these matches was given to me and Yegor to start: I gave a ceremonial whistle, and Yegor brought the game ball to the field. There were a lot of people in the stadium, we came out, announced us, told about the support of Ukraine, the whole stadium applauded, people held blue and yellow cards, flags, everything was so touching, skin was prickleing and, of course, tears .
We are all optimists, we all believe that Ukraine will soon win this war, so many are gradually making plans for the postwar period. And what will you do first of all after the war?
The first thing I will do is go to my relatives. I will hug my husband, see my relatives in Voznesensk, sit at a big table, prepare our family meals and celebrate our victory together. As for rugby, then, of course, I will continue to do what I love. It seems to me that I am a rugby ambassador who should help, support and develop this game, and open new directions for rugby.
Rugby Europe have launched a fundraiser to support the Ukrainian Rugby Community. Donations will help women and children to transfer to other countries (train or plane tickets), to book transit accommodations, to buy medication, food or clothes, cover relocation costs and any other expense that may alleviate the emotional and physical implications for the Ukrainian rugby community.