Cricket

Conflict in Ukraine: I heard about 18 huge explosions, says Ukrainian cricket boss

Conflict in Ukraine: I heard about 18 huge explosions, says Ukrainian cricket boss

Kobus Olivier felt nervous on Thursday when he woke up early in his seventh-floor apartment in Kyiv.

The chief executive of the Ukrainian Cricket Federation lives in a building on the main road into town, about a 15-minute drive from the center.

Instead of walking his four dogs at 5 a.m., he got up an hour earlier than usual and was on the street at 4 a.m. when he heard the first sound of thunder indicating a Russian assault. .

“I heard about 18 huge explosions – like it was right next to me – so I knew immediately what was going on,” he told the BBC Stumped podcast.

“I rushed into the apartment and put on the news. I heard that they had apparently bombed military bases just around Kyiv and also Boryspil airport. [Ukraine’s largest].

“There is video footage from Belarus which is only two hours from Kyiv. The ground troops are coming in with their tanks, so it’s real.”

The Ukrainian cricket boss – a former South African club professional – talks to us from his apartment via Zoom. Behind him, through the window, the Kiev sky is gray, overcast and threatening.

Communications are obviously intact at the moment, and Olivier is remarkably optimistic given the circumstances. He was eager to tell us about cricket in Ukraine and won’t be deterred, assuring us that he is fine in his apartment. He has no intention of going anywhere.

“Over the past week, Ukrainians, no one believed it would happen, they thought it could never really happen,” he says.

“Last night people were walking around with coffees, sitting in street cafes and this morning you just see chaos. The street outside Kyiv is absolutely blocked. Cars are not moving. People are trying to get out of Kiev in their cars because the airports were bombed.”

Two weeks ago, Olivier (on the right in the image below) was in a meeting to plan an upcoming cricket tournament.

Olivier first visited Ukraine five years ago when he arrived for a holiday, happy to be in a country where there was no cricket he knew of.

After spending 14 years as director of cricket at the University of Cape Town and a year in charge of Cricket Kenya, followed by four years setting up cricket academies in Dubai, he simply needed a break from the game. .

He fell in love with the city and decided to stay. When he took up a teaching job, it was cricket that he turned to in an attempt to engage his students in English lessons. They loved it.

“It was something completely new,” he explains. “So I started a cricket program for Ukrainian children in Ukrainian schools. I’m also the principal of one of the private schools here, so I started integrating cricket into physical education classes and from from there, cricket snowballed.”

Cricket has been present in Ukraine for about 20 years, but mainly played by hordes of male Indian medical students, who apply for university places through a company run by former Indian Hardeep Singh, who is also president of the Ukrainian Cricket Federation.

However, to have a chance of being recognized by the ICC, the federation needed basic programs for boys and girls. Hence Olivier, his passion and his experience in the bosom.

An application is currently being filed with the ICC for Ukraine to become an associate member, meaning it would become eligible for development funding and gain international Twenty20 status. A decision is expected in July. But who knows what will happen to Ukraine and its people by then.

As for Indian medical students, Olivier estimates that thousands are currently stranded in the country.

“I spoke to our president, he is unfortunately in one of the homes [Kharkiv] and there are a lot of military bases that have apparently come under heavy fire,” says Olivier.

“He has about 10,000 Indian students there in hostels. They were supposed to fly out this morning to be evacuated to India. Unfortunately that’s not happening so he’s helping them to stay in hostels and not to go out.”

Olivier describes himself as a nomadic cricketer, but in Kiev he has found a meaningful home. He insists that a Russian invasion won’t make him join the lines of cars trying to leave.

“In Kyiv I’m making a difference. I’m really doing something special, I’m doing something in Ukraine that I couldn’t do anywhere else, so for me to leave Kyiv now, I can’t do it. Cricket is holding me back here and I can’t turn my back on it.”

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