Jumping for joy Talented gymnast dreams of Olympic glory in new Manitoba home as war in Ukraine keeps family apart
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A six-year-old girl forced to abandon her gymnastics training when her family fled the war in Ukraine has struck gold in her adopted province.
Anastasia Reznikova finished on top at a gymnastics competition in Brandon last weekend.
“I was hoping to win,” the pint-sized dynamo said. “I was training so hard and gave my best on the day.”
Her mother, Olha, said she almost couldn’t believe it when Anastasia, who first began doing gymnastics at the age of three, came first in her level, beating out girls who were older than her on the vault, bars, beam and mat.
“I was so proud for my little one,” she said through a translator. “It was hard to believe that my little girl is standing there as a first-place winner.”
Anastasia’s coach, Adik Isakov, the owner and founder of Winnipeg’s Dakota Gymnastics Academy, said the girl has worked hard.
“She is fantastic,” Isakov said. “She has fantastic potential. She was competing against 26 kids. Her potential is very high. I believe she can have big results in future. I will do my best.”
Winning a gold medal wasn’t on the minds of Anastasia or her family almost a year ago.
“Anastasia asked me, ‘Mom, where are we going (to) sleep tonight?’ I said, ‘I do not know,’ because I really did not.”–Anastasia’s mother, Olha
They lived a typical middle-class life on the outskirts of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. Her father Sergii worked as a supply manager at a distillery, and her mother was a middle-school teacher.
Things changed quickly last February when Russian missiles began raining down on their country and troops crossed over the border. Anastasia, her 11-year-old sister Maria and their parents were forced to hide in the basement of their home.
“I remember the grey, heavy, February sky and the piercing sound of the Russian fighter jet over the city,” Olha said.
“We felt like a sand in the wind — absolutely powerless. These memories are so bad that I do not want to recall them… it was a feeling like the earth disappeared under your feet.
“I have lost all my trust in security (and) sense of security that I had before.”
They spent two weeks in the basement before making the tough decision that Olha and the girls would flee the country and Sergii would stay.
The decision to split up the family was made even more difficult by the atmosphere at the train station when they said goodbye.
“It was an immense feeling of fear,” Olha said. “We could hear the non-stop sounds of the war, like explosions and God knows what.
“(The) children kept asking me, while sitting in a train and waiting for departure, ‘Mommy, why there is loud sound of thunder here?’
“It’s just a sound of a cargo train loading,’ I lied to them.”
The train eventually pulled out of the station and, on March 16 they crossed into neighbouring Romania.
“Anastasia asked me, ‘Mom, where are we going (to) sleep tonight?’ Olha said. “I said, ‘I do not know,’ because I really did not.
“We slept on a school gym floor that night, in a small Romanian town, in safety.”
In Canada, Olha’s sister, who left Ukraine seven years ago to come to Winnipeg, was busy filling out the paperwork so the three could come to Canada.
Luba Zorina said she was also looking for a gymnastic school for her two nieces, but she knew they likely wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Zorina credited Dakota — which gave the family a discounted fee — and grants from organizations including Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program and the Manitoba Gymnastics Association, for helping her nieces continue to follow their dreams.
“Without that help, the little one would not be able to continue her training,” she said. “It has made such a positive impact on her life already and will do so in the future.”
Anastasia doesn’t just confine her gymnastics practice to a gymnasium.
“Anastasia is literally obsessed with gymnastics,” Olha said. “She trains not only at the gym, but she keeps exercising at home, as well, whenever she can.”
While she needs to practise for a few more years, and is hoping to do that back in Ukraine after the war, there is one other gymnastics competition the little girl is already thinking about.
“Yes, I want to compete in the Olympics one day,” she said.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Friday, February 3, 2023 8:44 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Kharkiv
Updated on Friday, February 3, 2023 10:30 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Reznikova in cutline