A champion synchronized swimmer from Ukraine has found a temporary new home in Tralee after fleeing her homeland with her family.
Mariia Maryntseva arrived in Tralee last week with her sister and their mother Olyna.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the family fled their home in the capital, Kyiv, and traveled to Romania. Once there, they left their vehicle behind and flew to Dublin.
Mariia’s father and older sister remained in Ukraine to help with the war effort.
This is the family’s second major move in the past decade – they were based in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine until it was annexed by Russia at the start of 2014. At that point, fearing for their safety, the family made the decision to leave. everything behind and move to Kyiv to start over.
But last month, when conflict in Ukraine erupted, the family had no choice but to flee their home once again.
Mariia, 17, is a synchronized swimming champion and has represented her country in several international competitions.
In the free routine combined event of the 2019 World Junior Synchronized Swimming Championships in Slovakia, she won a silver medal.
Before the Russian invasion, she and the other members of her swimming club in kyiv trained for up to eight hours a day and would no doubt have been considered as contenders for the next Paris Olympics in 2024.
Mariia and her family are keen to return to Ukraine when it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, they have been welcomed with open arms by the Tralee community, the Kingdom Swimming Club based at the Regional Sports and Leisure Center and Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School, which Mariia started attending this week.
When Spela Cvar, secretary of the Kingdom Swimming Club, was contacted about the possibility of Mariia joining the local swim team while in Kerry, she and her colleagues were only happy to oblige.
Although Mariia traveled without her gear, Ms Cvar contacted local swimwear supplier Swimheadz, who kindly donated togs, caps, goggles and other gear to Mariia.
Some of the more experienced members of the club then organized a reunion for Mariia and her family at the end of last week, where she proudly showed her new teammates her European Championship medal – one of the few possessions that she was able to enter during the six-minute window her family had to evacuate before a Russian airstrike.
“During the meeting, she showed her medal to some of the children, they were really amazed,” Ms Cvar said.
All her life she’s only been training, and we have the facilities here for her. Ms Cvar says the goodwill shown by Maria and her family so far has been remarkable.
“The family really appreciates everything,” she said.
“I believe that sport is something that can really integrate people.
“We’re all just happy the family is here and safe now.”