“It’s very stressful but I’m doing a little better since my family is out of Kyiv. It was terrible seeing what was going on and my mom said the next morning after everything started no one could sleep and she saw an airplane dropping a missile close to our home. That’s when they started packing all their things.”
— Utah State volleyball player Khrystyna Frank

The USA will not send its men’s team to the FIVB Volleyball World Championship if the tournament remains in Russia in August, USA Volleyball president and CEO Jamie Davis told VolleyballMag.com.

Adora Anae, the Hawaiian and former Utah star who played for SC Prometey DNIPRO in southeastern Ukraine left in a hurry two weeks ago. Anae is back home on the north shore of O’ahu where, luckily, she doesn’t need the winter clothes she left behind.

“I had to flee and break my contract,” Anae said.

The only other American playing in either Ukraine or Russia, USA Olympic setter Micah Christenson, is still with his Russian pro team, Zenit Kazan, and coach John Speraw reported that Christenson, also Hawaiian and a former USC star, is fine and staying put for now.

“He’s OK,” said Speraw, who has USA national-team players in various locations in Europe, including six in Poland. “Everybody over there is hyper-focused on what’s going on, but everybody there is still safe and playing volleyball.”

And Ukrainian American Terry Liskevych, a former USA Olympic coach, is shaking his head.

“This is not unexpected,” Liskevych said of the Russian invasion of the country his family left in 1944. “We repeat the cycle.”

We also have updates on the three Ukrainians who played NCAA women’s volleyball last fall.

Davis of USA Volleyball said he has regularly been in touch with the FIVB, the governing body of volleyball. 

“Yesterday morning,” Davis said, “I informed them of the following:

“In light of Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine and the instability in the region, the United States will not be sending our men’s national team to compete in said event should Russia remain as the host.  

“I need to prioritize the safety of our athletes and staff and feel that it would not be safe for them to travel to Russia under the current conditions.  

“I implore the FIVB to take the proper steps to move the 2022 World Championships to a new host country where all delegations from around the world will be able to compete in a safe environment.”

Volleyball federations from Poland, France, Slovenia and the Netherlands have also told FIVB they won’t go to Russia. Comments from international players follow, including Russian star Ekaterina Gamova, the two-time Olympic silver-medalist.

Adora Anae reaches for the ball in a match earlier this season/Macie J. Goclon, Fotonews

Adora Anae never returned to Ukraine

The 6-foot-1 Anae, 25, was a VolleyballMag.com first-team All-American in 2017 and is second on the Utah all-time kills list. She played professionally for two seasons in South Korea and then played a season in Turkey before heading to Puerto Rico last summer. That was a short season, and she said that created the chance to play in Ukraine. She headed to Dnipro, located about 300 miles southeast of Kyiv, in November. She was the only American on the roster that included 10 players from Ukraine, three from Bulgaria, and a Cuban. 

“It’s beautiful,” Anae said. “It had the city and the countryside. We lived across the bridge near the gym and it was a 15-minute ride into the city. It was nice and had the best of both worlds. But that city was one of the first cities to get attacked.”

Anae and her team were not there, but on the road, ultimately playing in Dresden, Germany. 

“In the beginning of February, things were getting hot,” Anae said, noting that she was in touch with her parents back in Hawai’i to keep up with the news she couldn’t always get. 

Anae said the U.S. Embassy told her that non-military Americans should leave, “but it wasn’t like a code red with mandatory evacuations. That came on the 13th or 14th and I was on the road with my team. We were in Odessa, in the southern part by the seaside of Ukraine, and we were on a bus going to Kyiv. That night is when I got the evacuation notice from the embassy and they told the club to evacuate all Americans within 48 hours. We were leaving from Kyiv the next day to go play in Germany, so I decided to play the match with my team.”

They played Dresdner SC 1898, a club that includes former Stanford setter Jenna Gray and former UCLA and Stanford middle Madeleine Gates, both of whom Anae competed against in the Pac-12.

Dresden won in four.

“After the match, we had a beer and sat down and talked,” Anae said, and Gray and Gates joked about her staying and playing for Dresden.

But Anae flew home from there the next day. 

“The team actually had to go back and play, but on the 19th,” Anae said, the squad was dispersed. “Troops were moving in.”

Her computer was still back in her Dnipro apartment. 

“My mom and dad were telling me that because I was going to be on the road for 10 days that if anything happened I had to be ready to go,” Anae said. “I packed everything, I took all my important stuff, my wallet, my documents. But my laptop I did not take. That was really the only thing valuable other than my clothes.”

She laughed.

“I don’t need my winter clothes here in Hawai’i. I’m good.”

Anae said she’s sad about the entire situation.

“I’m not worried about my stuff. The first thing I thought about was the team. They had to go back directly. They couldn’t go home like I did. And especially the locals. They couldn’t even go back to their families in Ukraine. And I’m still under contract with the team and we’re on the same page, but initially, I was in shock. Why aren’t you letting the girls go home, if they’re evacuating Americans you know it’s going to be serious. This is not a game.

“My coach was actually the one saying he wasn’t sure about this war, that it was actually going to happen, and he was going back to Dnipro. That kind of mentality. The girls didn’t have a say in how they felt. They were pressured into returning to Dnipro and playing. But in the next three days everything happened.”

SC Prometey DNIPRO played twice after the match in Dresden, on February 19 and 20, but hasn’t played since.

Adora Anae (8) with her SC Prometey DNIPRO teammates/Macie J. Goclon, Fotonews

Anae keeps in touch with her teammates. 

“They’re fine, but they’re terrified, they’re scared,” Anae said Sunday. “About three days ago when it first started I reached out to the team and we had a group chat and separate group chats and I made a separate chat just with the locals.”

Adora Anae, right, with teammates at Christmas

Anae said some of the players and staff are still in Dnipro and others are scattered about Ukraine. One teammate, she said, is with her family near Kyiv, “and she’s OK but she hears explosions throughout the day and everything is unpredictable and she’s just terrified. She’s with her mom and her cat. That’s all she has right now. Her dad’s away.”

Russia losing events, still has world championships

The European Volleyball Confederation (CEV) said it has canceled all competitions in Russia and Ukraine until further notice. The FIVB on Saturday announced that “In response to the worsening situation in Ukraine, the FIVB has today informed the Russian Volleyball Federation that two rounds of the upcoming Volleyball Nations League (VNL) to be held in Russia in June and July have been relocated with immediate effect.” 

The VNL women’s event begins in Shreveport, Louisiana on May 31. Matches in Ufa, Russia, were scheduled to start June 29. 

A portion of the men’s VNL was scheduled to be in Kemerovo, Russia, on July 5. The USA men were not scheduled to play in Russia. 

However, the FIVB men’s world championship, set to start August 25 in various sites in Russia including St. Petersburg and Moscow, is still on. 

Other national federations have pulled events out of Russia, including skiing, curling, Formula 1, and soccer, and the International Biathlon Union banned Russia from its events.

Micah Christenson while playing Dynamo in Moscow in December 2021/Roman Kruchinin photo

Speraw said “it’s the right decision” for Davis and USA Volleyball to tell the FIVB it won’t go to Russia. “Hopefully other federations will do the same and hopefully FIVB will make the correct decision, too, and agree to move it out of Russia.”

In a remarkably strong statement from the International Olympic Committee, the IOC “urged sports bodies Friday to cancel or move all events they plan to hold in Russia and Belarus, and stop using the countries’ flags and national anthems,” The Associated Press reported.

All too familiar for Terry Liskeyvch

The family of former USA Olympic women’s coach Terry Liskevych left Ukraine in 1944 and ended up in what he said was a “displaced persons camp” near Munich, Germany.

“The last few days have reminded me of the way my parents left,” Liskevych said.

Liskevych was born in 1948 in that camp and was 3 when his family made it to America.

“They stayed in that displaced persons camp for six years. You had to get sponsored by family or a church or synagogue to come,” Liskevych said. He said he has memories of that camp, “but you wonder if it’s the pictures that you saw later. You know, my father spoke fluent English, so he was an attache to the colonel at the camp, so I think life wasn’t bad compared to what it was back in Ukraine.”

Liskevych grew up in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Chicago and pointed out that Putin “underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian people.”

Liskevych got into volleyball at 17 and played and coached the Chicago Ukrainians club team from 1966-71.

‘Volleyball is what got me out of that Ukrainian community because I wanted to play not on the Chicago Ukrainians. I wanted to see how good I could get and went to play for Jim Coleman on his Kenneth Allen team. Doug (Beal) played on that team, I played on that team, Mick Haley played on that team.”

Liskevych said he has been to Ukraine many times. He visited his grandfather in 1969 and then returned many times as the coach of the USA national team.

During his coaching career, Liskevich replaced Beal as the men’s coach at Ohio State and then became the women’s coach at Pacific and Oregon State. He coached the USA national team from 1984 to 1996, which included winning bronze in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. 

“This is not unexpected,” Liskevych said of the Russian invasion. “We repeat the cycle.”

NCAA players from Ukraine

Last fall there were at least three players from Ukraine on NCAA women’s volleyball rosters.

Syracuse had Viktoriia Lokhmanchuk from Zhaporizhya, Ukraine, which is about 50 miles south of Dnipro. The 6-foot-5 outside, who will be a senior next season, had 120 kills and 49 blocks for the Orange last fall. She went home for Christmas and came back for this semester.

“It’s tough,” said Leonid Yellin, who just retired as the Syracuse coach. “I talked to her and I talked to her parents.”

Syracuse also had grad-student Yuliia Yastrub on the team last fall, who is from Nikolaev, Ukraine, which is in the south near Odessa. Yastrub was second on the team in digs.

Interestingly, Syracuse had three Russians on last year’s roster, including junior Marina Markova, who not only led the Orange in kills but is Lokhmanchuk’s roommate.

“They’re best friends. It’s tough,” Yellin said.

“It’s scary. I have so many friends there and also my niece and her husband and all his family there. It’s a nightmare.”

Syracuse also had Russian freshman Diana Akopova, and senior Polina Shemanova. Markova led the Orange in kills with 492 and Shemanova was next with 421. We wrote about Syracuse early in the 2021 season.

Utah State’s Khrystyna Frank grew up in Kyiv and had never lived anywhere else before she went to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. She was a senior outside who was third on the team in kills and second in digs for Utah State last season. Frank is still in Logan. Her family got out of Kyiv just two days ago and made it to Romania.

“It’s very stressful but I’m doing a little better since my family is out of Kyiv,” Frank said. “It was terrible seeing what was going on and my mom said the next morning after everything started no one could sleep and she saw an airplane dropping a missile close to our home. That’s when they started packing all their things.”

That included her father, Dzheffri, her mother, Liudmyla, and younger brother, Joel.

“By a miracle, they found a church bus that was going to Romania and they hopped on it. That was a blessing. They found a shelter there.”

Frank has another indoor season if she wants it, but is looking for a beach program where she can get her masters in film studies. For now, she’s coping as best she can.

“It’s terrible, especially when you see your own city and you’ve been to all those places and they’re getting destroyed,” Frank said. “It’s crazy.”

Oregon State has outside hitter Kateryna Tkachenko, who is from Lubny in southeastern Ukraine, about halfway between Kyiv and Dnipro. She will be a sophomore who played both in the spring of 2021 and then last fall led the Beavers in kills with 282.

Tkachenko is still in America, Oregon State coach Mark Barnard said. She hopes to visit Ukraine in June after Oregon State makes a trip to Prague, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy.

Oregon State assistant coach Anna Khrystenko is from Ukraine. Barnard said her husband, Alexander, was in Ukraine but returned last week. Her family is there and OK, he said.

Athletes speak out

Russian star Ekaterina Gamova was outspoken on her Instagram account, where she said, 

“We don’t need any war. Ordinary people are not to blame for anything but they are the ones who suffer first …  I will remember this day for the rest of my life, when I said ‘the war has begun.’ I looked at my son and tears rolled down. Lord help me.”

The Polish Volleyball Federation wrote to the FIVB telling it Poland will not compete against teams from Russia:

Volleyball players calling for the event to be pulled from Russia included French star Earvin Ngapeth, Poland’s Michal Kubiak, and countryman Andrezej Wrona:

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SC Prometey DNIPRO before Adora Anae’s final match in Dresden. She’s in white in the back row right behind No. 14.

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