Ukrainian diary: ‘Irish coaches helped me win international gold in taekwon-do’

Ivan Bondarchuk (12) lives with his younger sister Vladana and his mother in the City West Hotel, Dublin, where he has been able to continue his sports training and win competitions


Nina Mischenko

Before the war broke out, I was training for two championships in taekwon-do. On February 26 last year, the regional championship was due to be held in Zhytomyr, followed the next month by the national championship. But on February 28, my sister Vladana (7), my mother Oksana and I had to leave Kyiv. We went to Poland on March 5, so I couldn’t participate in the championships as planned.

I have been practising my favourite sport since I was seven and have been a prize-winner in many regional and Ukrainian competitions. In December 2021, I was included in the children’s national team to participate in the Taekwon-do World Cup in Minsk. Our event was cancelled due to international tensions with the host country, Belarus, where there were many Russian troops had gathered. The trainers feared for our safety, as nobody knew when the war would begin.

After moving to Poland, I continued to practise taekwon-do and looked for opportunities to participate in competitions. I attended the local section of the ITF Taekwon-do in the city of Lublin, where training was provided free to all Ukrainian refugee children. The Polish coaches provided us with all the necessary equipment and sports clothes.

In July 2022, my family and I came to Dublin, where volunteers had organised our relocation. I looked for opportunities to continue training in taekwon-do and found St Mark’s Taekwon-do school in Tallaght, founded by Valerie Keane. I trained there from August to December 2022, participated in the Irish Open 2022 championship, and I won the gold medal in the formal exercises category and silver in the sparring category.

In September 2022, national junior coach Robert Howard gave me the opportunity to join the weekly sparring training of the team at Grand Master Howard’s Taekwon-do School. He recognised my desire to improve my sports skills and abilities and took a fatherly approach to my training. Although I trained taekwon-do six days a week for two hours after school in Ukraine, training in Ireland was held only three times a week for one hour. But in any case, I am happy to have this opportunity. I make up for training time on my own.

After participating in the Irish championship in January 2023, athletes were selected for the Irish national team for the European championship. Unfortunately, I did not make the cut as I had not been certified as a red belt yet. However, grand master Howard, who had been impressed by my talent and potential, offered to train me for the English Open 2023 championship in Guildford, south of London. I accepted this challenge and took first place in both patterns and sparring, bringing back two gold medals.

I believe that these achievements would have been impossible without the support of my Irish friends who helped, taught and encouraged me and provided proper equipment and sponsorship.

I have found the Irish people to be warm, sincere, and friendly. I found new friends at school. The curriculum is not very difficult for me, but I need to catch up on my English language skills. I am also continuing my education in the Ukrainian distance learning.

I like Ireland very much, but I dream of returning home to Ukraine and I am waiting for the victory of the Ukrainian armed forces as soon as possible.

As told to Nina Mishchenko