‘I see a lot of death:’ Olympic Swimmer Sergiy Fesenko Reacts to War in Ukraine

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ross

‘I see a lot of death:’ Olympic Swimmer Sergiy Fesenko Reacts to War in Ukraine

Sergiy Fesenko’s thoughts have been drawn back to Ukraine this week, as the swimmer who once represented that country at the Olympics watches from afar the military invasion by Russia.

Fesenko took to the streets in Cincinnati, where he lives, to protest Russia’s invasion. He gave an emotional interview to Cincinnati television station WKRC this week.

“I usually never cry, but every time I try to talk about it, it’s just, like, your eyes water, and I think this shows how much pride I have,” Fesenko said. “However, there are no real winners in war. I see a lot of death.”

Fesenko comes from one of the most decorated swimming families in Ukrainian history. He competed at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics for Ukraine, primarily in distance freestyle. He finished 16th in the 400 free at the 2008 Beijing Games and made the semifinals before finishing 16th in the 200 butterfly in Sydney in 2000.

Fesenko swam for Indiana University, winning a silver in the 1,500 free and bronze in the 800 free at the 2007 World University Games. He received his master’s degree from Indiana and has American citizenship.

His father, Sergiy Fesenko Sr., won gold for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. (Another Soviet gold medalist from those games, 400 IMer and fellow Ukrainian Aleksandr Sidorenko, died in late February, just before the invasion began.)

The younger Fesenko served in the Ukrainian military, though did not see combat. Fesenko married Kateryna Zubkova, a fellow Indiana grad and native of Kharkov who represented Ukraine at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

What he’s seeing now reminds him of stories his grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles described of the bombardment of Kyiv during World War II. He’s been in contact with friends and relatives back home who are spending their days preparing Molotov cocktails to defend their homes.

Fesenko described a sense of guilt at not being able to defend his country directly, but he hopes to raise awareness of the situation among Americans.

“This not just a fight for Ukraine; this is the fight of the whole free world against evil, against Satan, that is trying to kill normal human life,” he said.

The attack has drawn widespread condemnation, not just in the West. Within the sporting realm, it has led to the International Olympic Committee barring athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing at the ongoing Paralympics in Beijing. Russian and Belorussian athletes are also prevented from competing in European events, and FINA has moved international events out of those countries.

For more from the interview from Sergiy Fesenko and links to help support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, find the original interview here.

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