Ukraine crisis: Nigeria-born coach Obi Ojimadu on trauma after escape from Kharkiv

2 months ago 3118
Obi OjimaduObi Ojimadu coached Under-11 and Under-13 teams affiliated to 13-time Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk

"When you start hearing the explosions getting closer to you, it is heart-wrenching. It is so scary."

Thankfully for Obi Ojimadu and his family, they no longer see or hear bombs on the street - even if such memories of their flight from Ukraine do still affect them mentally.

The Nigeria-born football coach, his wife and three teenaged children are now in Hungary, having endured a fear-laden journey from the eastern city of Kharkiv which started just days after the Russian invasion on 24 February.

Ojimadu, who worked for Shakhtar Donetsk, says his children - aged 18, 15 and 13 - are still "traumatised" by their recent experiences.

"When we were in the basement of our house, the trauma was so much that any slight noise keeps you on edge," Obi Ojimadu told BBC Sport Africa.

"You know the kind of stress one can go through, especially for kids.

"The apprehension was like even if a spoon falls, you get scared. The door closes, you get scared. Every little noise, you are scared, you think it is a rocket or bomb.

"Even when we moved from Ukraine, everything made us scared. Right here now in Hungary, the trauma is still there.

"If you hear any kind of noise or a car passing or a helicopter flying by, you will be wondering what that is. So, you have all these apprehensions."

Football Obi Ojimadu speaks about fleeing Russian's invasion of the city of Kharkiv.

Two of Obi's children fell ill as their three-day journey from Kharkiv to Budapest took its toll, but the trauma is slowly dissipating.

"We know this is out of the whole stress and trauma that they faced," the 50-year-old said.

"They are handling it very well now, because everywhere is peaceful now. You can walk out on the streets, feel free, start removing that experience from their minds.

"Thank God for the past few days, we are now having enough sleep and the tension and stress are wearing out."

'Our lives were really in danger'

Obi Ojimadu (centre) with family at a 50th birthday partyObi Ojimadu with his family at a 50th birthday party

After sheltering for a few days in their basement Ojimadu, a grassroots coach of Under-11 and Under-13 teams affiliated to Shakhtar, eventually decided the family had to leave their home as the attacks on Kharkiv got worse.

''Hearing explosions getting closer and watching the news, you hear this person was killed here, that person was killed there," he said.

"There was nowhere safe. Even when we were in the basement, we were also hearing explosions, windows shattering, people screaming and running here and there.

"The first day we tried to get to the train station, as we were driving closer to the train station, we heard explosions. It could be about 500 metres from us - heavy explosions, two or three times.

"You hear this shattering noise, you don't know where it is coming from, you don't know where to walk to. We saw explosions, we saw houses being destroyed. It is one of the scariest things anybody can ever see in life.

"As a father and as a parent, it is quite difficult looking at your child in such situation. You cannot give answers to all the questions, and you don't know what is going to happen.''

The family eventually got a train from Kharkiv to the capital Kyiv on 27 February, three days after the invasion.

"Our lives were really in danger, that was why we made that decision to move as quickly as possible,'' Ojimadu said.

"There was an issue with train in Kyiv, we had to wait seven hours at the train station before it could move. And that was when the fight was heavy in the capital, we could hear explosions from where we were, and we could not get out of the train.

"It was very traumatic. Having in mind that safety of the kids is paramount, we just had to make the journey out of Ukraine."

The family endured a 28-hour journey from Kharkiv to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine around 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the Polish border.

Leaving everything behind

Ojimadu left Nigeria in 1988 to study on a scholarship in the Soviet Union (now Russia) and later moved to Ukraine to start a business with his brother.

Including a stint in Kyiv, he had lived in Ukraine for 17 years and raised his children there, but found himself leaving behind his adopted home to get to safety.

"We are people who have settled down in Ukraine but we had to leave everything behind," he said.

"It was just a question of saving our lives. You need to travel light because you don't know what condition you are going to meet on the way.

"So, we did not pack anything. We had to leave everything we have worked for, for decades. We had to leave everything behind just for us to be safe.''

Their arrival in Lviv on 28 February, a city Ojimadu described as "crowded", saw the family move away from the worst of the fighting.

A map of Obi Ojimadu journeyOjimadu and his family journeyed from Kharkiv (far right) to Budapest (far left) via Kyiv and Lviv

After a four-hour wait, they boarded another train to Uzhgorod, closer to the border with Slovakia and Hungary, where, exhausted, they spent the night.

The next afternoon, the Ojimadus travelled to the village of Chop, a 30-minute drive from Uzhgorod, and, after waiting four hours, took a 10-minute train ride across the Hungarian border to Zahony.

From there, they got a connecting train to Budapest, where they arrived on the night of 29 February.

"It was a three-day journey from Ukraine to Hungary," Ojimadu said. "It was very stressful.''

Ojmadu is keeping in touch with his employers at Shakhtar Donetsk amid the war situation in Ukraine, and he retains hope that the conflict will end soon so that normalcy can return.

''I had to inform my superiors (at Shakhtar) before I left," he said.

"They understand as everybody is just trying to stay safe. I informed them that we had to leave for now for safety, and they are encouraging us.

"We are all hoping that this whole thing comes to an end."

Source Article