– Hardly any other good German athlete has been personally hit by the Russian attack on Ukraine like table tennis star Dimitrij Ovtcharov, who was born in Kiev. Now for the first time he is talking in detail.
He was born in Kiev. His grandmother was still living in the Ukrainian capital in the early days of the war. He played for the best Russian club for more than eleven years. His father was a Soviet champion. Hardly any other German athlete and his family were personally affected by the Russian attack on Ukraine as the national table tennis player and former world number one Dimitrij Ovtcharov.
In recent weeks, the 33-year-old has helped bring his grandmother to Germany from war-torn Kiev and set up an apartment for other war refugees in Düsseldorf, the center of his life. At first I could not think of table tennis for days. “The time was exhausting,” said the Olympic bronze medalist. In interviews with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung he has already – in addition to an Instagram post – spoken publicly about it for the first time.
“She just couldn’t do it”
Ovtcharov’s priority was clear: first the family, then the sports future. In Kiev, his 85-year-old grandmother “tried two or three times to get on the train at the main station. There were thousands of people there, the crowds were large, they just could not enter,” he told FAZ.
He later called “an old friend of my dad’s table tennis players” who wanted to take the family abroad. “He himself had to stay in Ukraine and defend the country. He asked my father to help him find an apartment and go to the authorities because no one in the family speaks German. In return, the friend took my grandmother with him.”
“Take a clear position”
Only when it was certain did Ovtcharov resign from his contract with top Russian club Fakel Orenburg, with whom he has won four Champions Leagues since 2010 and is sponsored by Russian energy company Gazprom. “On the first day of the war it was clear to us: Now it is no longer possible. Although the people at the club have nothing to do with the war, we had to take a clear stance,” said the world-class player. “SZ”.
But especially for someone with Ovtcharov’s family history, the dividing line is not simply drawn between Russians and Ukrainians. His father still played for the state, which consisted of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians together until 1991. “He was an international for the Soviet Union. And if I played in the Russian league or met Ukrainian officials on tour, everyone “they always wanted to know how my father was,” Ovtcharov said.
One of his closest friends is three-time European champion Vladimir Samsonov from Belarus, who is supporting the Russians in this war (“We talk regularly on the phone. He is very sad.”) And if Ovtcharov returns to Germany for the TTC Neu-Ulm this summer will play in a club with Russian internationals Lev Katsman, Vladimir Sidorenko and Maxim Grebnev and will train with Russian coach Dmitry Masunov.
Ovtcharov’s credo is: “The only problem I would have if they were to support the war. Then I could not play with them. But that applies to all players, no matter where they come from: they have to leave. Russian war. clear distance. “
For this reason, the 33-year-old also criticizes the fact that Russian and Belarusian athletes and teams have been excluded from competitions such as the World Cup or the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Russian tennis player Andrei Rublev “had clearly condemned the war from day one.” He was then “sad and unfair to individual athletes like him, who are unable to practice their profession just because they have the wrong passport. After all, sport is just sport. Athletes can not help it.”