Women’s singles player Polina Buhrova and women’s doubles pair Mariia Stoliarenko-Yelyzaveta Zharka have been training here since May, thanks to their Malaysian national coach Salim Samion.
Salim told The Vibes that it has been challenging for him to get his players to resume training, given what is happening in their home country.
“During their first month here, they had a very difficult time adjusting to a new environment. It has not been easy. I can see they miss their family terribly and are worried about them.
“Although they are glad that their family are safe, the men like their fathers or brothers had to stay in Ukraine to join the army,” said the 41-year-old coach.
Salim appointed Ukraine’s head coach last October
Salim was offered a position by the Ukrainian Badminton Federation as the national head coach and reported for duty in October 2021 in Kyiv.
When he left for Ukraine, he had to leave his wife, father and children – six- and seven-year-old daughters.
However, he returned to Malaysia at the end of February as the first Russian bombs dropped on Ukraine soil.
“On February 28, (a few days after Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine), I had no choice but to leave.
“I remember hearing bomb explosions as early as 4.30am, so I contacted the Malaysian embassy in Kyiv and they asked me to go to the embassy office.
“I felt the ground shake and the roof fell. It was very loud. I just packed a small bag and took my phone, passport, and laptop. That’s all.
“Then, I drove from Kyiv to Poland where our embassy in Poland helped to send me home. I arrived in Malaysia on March 2.”
Help sought from coaches in Europe
His players, however, were not in Ukraine at the time of the bombing, except for Zharka.
Salim said Zharka was at Kharkiv when it happened, but she got to safety.
As for the other players, he sought help from his friends in Europe to place them under their care.
“Coincidentally many of them were out of the country for their tournaments, so they were also unable to return to Ukraine.
“So, I contacted my friends, who have badminton clubs in Europe, like France and Denmark, and asked them to do me a favour and train my players. They provided a place for them to stay too.
“As for those who qualified for the World Championships in Tokyo, they were sent here to train with me.”
Limited resources, adamant to help train players
Salim, who worked with badminton legend Datuk Misbun Sidek to coach the Malaysian badminton team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, was adamant to help train his players even after leaving Ukraine.
Even though he was unable to personally train them from March until the Thailand Open (May 17-22), he still coached them online.
Buhrova, Stoliarenko, and Zharka are being trained at the Andalas Sports Complex in Klang.
“The most challenging part for me right now is not having enough help to train the girls. Three players and one coach is okay, but I need another sparring partner for them.
“It’s a mixed feeling having them here and being able to train face-to-face, but at least we have a place to train for the time being and prepare them for the World Championships in Tokyo (August 22-28).”
Salim added that Stoliarenko will be participating in her first World Championships, while Buhrova will be competing at the European Junior Championships in Belgrade, saying they got “some work cut out for them”.
Stoliarenko-Zharka also played in the Malaysia Open (June 28-July 3) and Masters (July 5-10) but did not make it past round 32.
Stricken by war, but spirits unbroken
Despite that, Perak-born Salim is proud of their performance for showing improvement from their previous tournaments, adding that it would be good for them to gain experience.
“Now, I can see that they are getting better and have the desire to continue their training.
“I was supposed to have another player with me, Danylo Bosniuk, but when he tried to come here, the French immigration did not allow him because there was an issue with his passport.”
Given the limited resources, Salim remains persistent to help his players as much as he can.
For recovery, they are expected to undergo rehabilitation on their own or only sports massages or physiotherapy when needed.
As for weight and strength training, Salim rented a gym near the players’ accommodation.
“So far, I am really grateful that they have no injuries. We try our best to avoid that,” he added. – The Vibes, July 29, 2022