Ukraine and The Czar

On my second day in Kiev I woke up to thousands of protesters rallying outside the Verkhovna Rada building prior to the parliamentary vote on a pension reform bill, which wound up passing. That afternoon Sasha Volkov and I took a private plane from Kiev to Odessa so we could watch the Ukraine Under-25 National Team practice. Later we found an Italian restaurant for dinner, so I felt at home right away.

On Friday we had two workout sessions with six of the Ukraine National Team players who joined us in Odessa to start getting ready for the upcoming training camp. We caught another Under-25 practice before flying out to Crimea for Saturday’s celebration of President Viktor Yanukovych’s 61st birthday.

The following morning I woke up and drove from the resort town Alushta to President Yanukovych’s summer home in Foros along with Sasha Volkov, Sasha Larin, Slava Medvedenko and the captain of our Ukraine National Team Sergei Lischuk. We had the honor of meeting President Yanukovych and presented him with a birthday gift. Before catching our return flight to Odessa we made another stop to watch Sasha Volkov’s daughter Alexandra practice at the rhythmic gymnastics training camp. She is only twelve years old and already stands 5’9” tall – wow! It was evident that Alexandra inherited her father’s athleticism and is going to be something special.

Afterwards we flew back to Odessa to watch the Under-25 Team practice again. We also had an opportunity to take in some of the local sites before returning to Kiev. We visited the famous Potemkin Stairs (officially known today as the Primorsky Stairs), which were originally constructed from 1837–1841 and are now comprised of 192 stairs with ten landings. Considered a formal entrance into the city, the steps were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin. I also got a photo with Ivan Martos’s statue of Duc de Richelieu, who served as Odessa’s governor between 1803–1814 and is considered one of the city’s founding fathers.

On Sunday I slept in and grabbed a late brunch with Sasha Larin and his son Zjenya, an outstanding young man who just came home after studying abroad in Boston, MA for six weeks. After brunch I returned to the hotel to set up a new flat screen and DVD player in our meeting room in order to prepare for the arrival of my assistant coaches. Then I caught a 5:00 PM mass in Polish since I had missed the earlier service that was in English. When mass ended I walked for about an hour back to my hotel, showered and joined Sasha Volkov for dinner at his neighbors’ home. By the end of our food and wine-filled evening I was ready to turn in, but had to spend some time working on the team playbook before bed.

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