Volodymyr Markovetskyy: USF Ukrainian student athlete’s heart is at home

Volodymyr Markovetskyy makes a free throw shot against Pepperdine in San Francisco. PHOTO BY EDUARDO GARCIA / COURTESY OF CHRIS LEUNG/DONS ATHLETICS

On the court, USF’s Volodymyr Markovetskyy does his best to focus on the game at hand, and maintain his student-athlete routines. However, once the 7’2” Ukrainian sophomore center steps off the court, he cannot help but think of the “mentally tough” situation his family and home country currently face. 

Markovetskyy, more often referred to as Vova, is from Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, located in the Western part of the country. Russian missiles have severely damaged his hometown, including the airport. Haunting sounds of air raid sirens are daily occurrences according to Markovetskyy’s father, a police officer, who “with an AK-47 in his hand,” Markovetskyy said is now bound for Kyiv to protect the capital. “Imagine all your family left your home because it’s not safe, and you stay to protect your own house,” Markovetskyy said. 

“It’s really hard mentally living like this,” Markovetskyy said. While his father remains in Ukraine, his mother, Leysa Markovetska and 11-year-old sister, Julia Markovetskyy have traveled through Poland and are now refugees in Lithuania. Markovetskyy says he communicates daily with his family and that they are relatively safe with other relatives and friends. 

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Markovetskyy’s mother is a nurse and might need to return to Ukraine to aid in the war effort. As a result, the family is thinking of sending Markovetskyy’s sister to the Bay Area to reunite with him. 

Markovetskyy’s mother and sister are among the more than 1.7 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the Russian offensive began Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. For months leading up to these events, Russia has been amassing a large arsenal of weapons and troops along Ukraine’s borders. USF politics and international studies professor Dr. Stephen Zunes described Russia’s actions as a “clear-cut act of aggression, a direct violation of United Nations charter with absolutely no moral or legal justification.”

Recently, major news outlets and US Defense officials report that Russian forces have stepped up their attacks, firing on civilian targets. Fears have grown that innocent civilian casualties will increase in number in the next few weeks and have prompted calls for more humanitarian aid. Still, since the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression has caused a “moving response from the international community,” said Zunes. Nations have come together by accepting refugees and providing extensive monetary and material assistance to the Ukrainian government.

Here at the Hilltop, the Washington State transfer says he has received an outpouring of support from “coaches, players, students, professors who have been reaching out and asking if [I] need help.” Without the University’s ongoing support, Markovetskyy said, “I don’t know where I would be right now.”

In a statement to the Foghorn, University President Paul Fitzgerald S.J. said the University is “outraged by the war in Ukraine,” and that he is heartbroken over the destruction and human suffering that has resulted from it. “It is burdening the hearts of our students, staff, faculty and alumni,” Fitzgerald said. “We pray for peace as we reach out in care to support one another. Vova [Markovetskyy] and his fellow Ukrainians in the USF family are at the center of our concern.” The University held a candlelight peace vigil in support of Ukraine on March 9.

Support for Markovetskyy has also come from his two Belarusian teammates, Dzmitry Ryuny and Yauhen Massalski. Although the Belarusian government has supported Russia in the conflict, Markovetskyy describes the war as “a battle between politicians, not people—people do not want war.” Further, he added, “the Ukrainian people are strong. However, we need political support in this difficult time.” 

Basketball gives Markovetskyy some ease, though his family always remains his main priority. PHOTO BY EDUARDO GARCIA / COURTESY OF CHRIS LEUNG/DONS ATHLETICS

Though the Dons are on the verge of breaking a 24-year NCAA Tournament drought, for Markovetskyy, “nothing is important but my family at this moment.” However, basketball has provided a sense of escape, “because when you’re on the court, you forget everything for two hours.” Markovetskyy has played a combined 28 minutes in the last two games.

When asked if he has ever considered the thought of going back to Ukraine, Markovetskyy said, “I want to support my father who is alone, I want to support my country, and if they need my help, I’m ready to buy a plane ticket and go now.”

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