Thanks to the generosity of our community, the BF Charity’s ‘Support for Ukrainian Fencers’ campaign has reached over 25% of its fundraising goal. Here, we share a story from this month’s edition of The Sword about Mykolai, a young Ukrainian fencer now staying with a British Fencing family.
In this story from the July 2022 edition of The Sword, Siân Rhys Pollitt speaks to one of the British fencing families who have reached out to share their home with their Ukrainian counterparts…
Sian Beautyman lives in deepest Wiltshire with her epeeist son, Cador. Three times a week at least, Sian undertakes a three-and-a-half hour drive to and from Knightsbridge Fencing Club where Cador fences. She further supplements this itinerary with trips to Pentathlon GB training in Bath and Abingdon School Fencing Club. So if we were ever looking for somebody to be at the helm of helping Ukrainian fencers displaced by the conflict in their homeland to come over and still keep practising their sport, we need go no further than asking this already busy person.
When Sian speaks to me, she is sat in her car outside Bath University where Cador and their Ukrainian fencing guest, 16 year-old Mykolai are attending a camp with the modern pentathletes. The last-year Ukrainian Cadet epeeist has been staying chez Family Beautyman for two-and-a-half weeks along with his mother, Alla.
“They don’t want to be here,” cuts across Sian gently. “They want to live as a family in Ukraine. Mykolai’s elder sister is still there and has just had a baby. But they had to split up as Mykolai is not allowed in Britain if he’s unaccompanied.”
Still, Alla and Mykolai are more than grateful for the hospitality and Sian says her greatest concern is to give the Ukrainian mother and son a really good experience. She clearly makes everything work well under such pressure. Mykolai is used to fencing five times per week in his native country in addition to competing every weekend. Fortunately, Tamás Kovacs and Julianna Révész at Knightsbridge, with the support of the whole fencing club, as well as Alan Knowles at Abingdon School have, Sian confirms, been “very accepting”, welcoming this fencing guest with open arms into their salles.
“There’s been lots of support in the wider communities too. The council offered to give them computers to keep in touch with Mykolai’s school in Kyiv and with their family and friends, many of whom are now scattered across Europe. When our neighbours found they were coming, they printed out A4 sheets welcoming them in Ukrainian and put them up in all their windows. When we drove them up our lane, it brought the biggest smile to their faces.”
Sian talks glowingly of her admiration for Alla who spends a lot of time every day polishing her English and walking around the village trying to integrate into the language, country and culture as much as she can. Near where Sian and Cador live, they get together with other families who have welcomed Ukrainians into their home. But I wonder about life for teenage Mykolai, and ask Sian what he will do over a long three-month summer break from his online schooling?
“I’ve signed up him and Cador to a national pool lifeguarding qualification so they can work as pool lifeguards. Also we’d planned for Cador to do a summer epee camp in Vittel in France. The club there has raised money so that Mykolai, and another Ukrainian fencer, can join in.”
Behind these fairy-tale outcomes is Sian – working flat-out to raise the profile of what Ukrainian refugees need and to get the funding and support to make it all happen. “We have been successful in finding five families to host Ukrainian fencers so far and we are still working to place three fencing families in Britain. There is a Smartsheet on the BF website that people who want to express their interest in hosting can fill out. Then I can get in touch with them and see what will be best.”
Alla has told Sian that currently in Ukraine there is a shortage of glass. So many windows have been broken and shattered that supplies, which would normally have been sourced from Russia, have run out. The Ukrainian people have howling wounds in both their material and emotional worlds. When Mykolai’s elder sister was in labour, there were missiles whizzing overhead. Sian then tells me of a fencer from Kharkiv who cried inconsolably when she heard that her fencing club had been bombed. The place that she loved to go and train had been razed to the ground.
We chew over the British Fencing maxim that fencers should ‘be safe, have fun and feel welcome’ in their sport. Sian immediately responds, “Certainly safe takes on a completely different context. Fun through fencing is a lifeline to them. As for feeling welcome – I see that vibe, I feel it. With Alla and Mykolai, we could have tried to do this on our own but it is so much easier, so much more manageable and so much nicer to do it with everyone’s help.”
“Every day Mykolai asks me what time we are leaving to go fencing. It’s clear fencing is his focus. Fencing is what he loves.”
To express an interest in hosting a family please complete this form:
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