Kichenok fled the country after the war started and needed 31 hours to get from Kyiv to Moldova with her parents. Her twin, Nadiia, also part of Ukraine’s team, left Kyiv just before Russia invaded, traveling to California with her husband.
“It was two days of hell for me until they got to a safe place,” Nadiia said of her family. “I had constant panic attacks. I never experienced anything like that, like 40 minutes your body is shaking, and you don’t know what to do besides deep breaths.”
The Kichenoks’ father, who is 64, has since returned to Ukraine and tried to volunteer for the military despite exceeding the age limit.
“They told him, ‘Grandfather, go back home,’” Nadiia Kichenok said. “‘We have too many people here. We will call you when we need you.’”
Yastremska, 21, fled Odesa, her home city, with her 15-year-old sister, Ivanna, crossing into Romania after saying goodbye to their parents on the Ukrainian side of the Danube River. The sisters have been traveling on tour together for nearly two months while their parents remain in Odesa, where one of their tasks has been organizing relief efforts through Yastremska’s charitable foundation.
Unable to return home, the Yastremska sisters remain without a fixed training base, but they will head next to Madrid to prepare for the clay-court season. The Kichenok twins will travel to Stuttgart, Germany, for a tournament, and Zavatska will return to Cannes, France, where she is sharing her small apartment with her mother and other relations who fled Ukraine.
After a week of togetherness and a final night of karaoke with the Americans on Saturday, the Ukrainians will move on, but with the hope that Asheville and the wider world do not move on too quickly.
“I don’t want people to get used to this grief that we are experiencing,” Nadiia Kichenok said. “We don’t want people to be sorry for us. We want them to stay strong with us, fighting for freedom and humanity.”