“Would not really go”: Ukraine’s handball players take refuge in Germany

“Did not really want to leave”
Ukraine’s handball players take refuge in Germany

The handball players of the Ukrainian national team will be allowed to stay in Großwallstadt in Bavaria for 20 days. Coach Slava Lochmann is already hoping for an extension, for the horrors of war leave no one indifferent. He emphasizes: You can fight in the hall, but not with a weapon.

The horrors of the Russian war of aggression broke into Slava Lochmann’s life in the early hours of February 24 with a loud bang. “We woke up at 4:30 in the morning to the sound of the bombs,” reports the national coach of the Ukrainian national handball team, visibly moved. Since then, nothing has been the same for the 44-year-old.

Slava Lochmann played for Großwallstadt from 2004 to 2007.

(Photo: imago images / PanoramaC)

The former Bundesliga professional from TV Großwallstadt fled with his family from their apartment in the center of Kiev to a friend on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital. As the situation became more and more threatening, Lochmann left in early March with his wife and three children via Hungary to Großwallstadt, where he still has many friends and acquaintances from his active days. “It’s important that my family is safe,” said the former full-back.

Meanwhile, he has made up with all national players who do not play for clubs abroad. They were also allowed to take their families with them. “I did not really want to leave. But it was important for me to get my wife and children safe,” reports goalkeeper Gennady Komok.

Aircraft redirected with top club

The 34-year-old is one of eleven players under contract with top club Motor Zaporizhschja and like Lochmann was surprised by the Russian attack. When the team returned from the Champions League group stage of the Polish club Vive Kielce on February 24, Zaporizhia airport was under fire. The plane was diverted to Kiev, where it had to land on a field. The war also raged in the capital.

The stay in Germany brings back some normality. However, the special permission of the Ukrainian Minister of Sports is initially only valid for 20 days. Lochmann is hoping for more time. “I talked to our federal president. Maybe we can stay two more months. I hope the team does not have to go home,” he says.

Handball is an important outlet for Lochmann, because the terrible events at home do not let him go. “When we train or play, I’m 100 percent focused on the team. Otherwise, I only think about my parents, my country and what’s going on now,” said the former fullback.

Above all, it gets on his nerves to worry about his mother and father. Both live in Zaporizhia in southern Ukraine. When he called them the other day, Lochmann says, a bomb exploded somewhere in the city. Then the sirens sounded. “They had to go to shelters for air strikes. They sit there all day,” the gentle giant recounts. “It stinks.”

“We are not soldiers”

Staying at home and fighting the aggressors, as some athletes do, was not an option for him. “We do not fight at the front, we fight indoors. We are not soldiers. I have never held a gun in my life, only held a ball,” Lochmann says, adding: “Handball is my life. My I carry the land in my heart . “

In his view, the performance of Ukrainian athletes at competitions is also of great importance. “We have to show that we have a country,” Lochmann emphasizes. Therefore, there are two hours of training twice a day in Großwallstadt. Qualification for the European Championships 2024 in Germany begins in the autumn. We must be prepared for that, says the coach.

In addition, he still flirts with participation in the 2023 World Cup, even though Ukraine could not play the playoff qualifiers against Finland due to the war. “I hope we get a wildcard for the World Cup,” Lochmann said. But one thing is even more important to him. “My biggest wish is that the war ends quickly. Too many people are already dead, especially children,” says the father of the family, adding desperately: “And for what?”

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