MSometimes life rewards the brave: When Kyryll Vertynskyi fled the war-ravaged Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia in spring 2022 in an old, yellow school bus full of children and young people, he didn’t know where to go. Just get away, that was his only goal. Offer the 30 young people a new, better life – and themselves at the same time. No matter where.
Almost a year later, the 38-year-old in a grey-blue suit was on the big stage at the ceremony as part of the Judo Grand Slam in Paris and was the official representative of the Judo Club Wiesbaden accepted the award for the “Judo for Peace Award” from the International Judo Federation. “I’m very happy to be here,” Vertynskyi begins his words of thanks – and one has rarely believed an honoree more at an award ceremony. The judo trainer describes the help he and his students received from the judo club and the city of Wiesbaden as an “example of friendship”. “It’s a sign of what we can achieve if we stick together.”
The Wiesbadener Robertson Linsner had received the call for help at the time: “I have a bus full of children. Need help”. And piloted Vertynskyi with his crew via Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Austria to Hesse. A few days later, the former competitive athlete Stanislav Bondarenko came in a sprinter from the Ukraine afterwards, he had accommodated 13 young people in his vehicle.
Vertynskyi and Bondarenko have since made their home in Wiesbaden and have become indispensable coaches in the judo club, and their wives have been able to follow suit. The children and young people were accommodated by the EVIM youth welfare service and the Johannes-stift youth welfare center. “They are preparing to build a life for themselves here,” says Philipp Eckelmann, President of the Wiesbaden Judo Club. “There’s no going back” – everything has been destroyed in their old homeland of Zaporizhia.
The integration into Wiesbaden life works via a “potpourri of aid measures”, as Eckelmann put it flowery. Municipal support and private commitment complemented each other. “The younger you are, the better you speak German,” Eckelmann found. And there are also different stages of development when it comes to integration. The sport helps to get over dark moments. Regular training structures everyday life.
Linsner emphasizes that Kyryll Vertynskyi is indispensable: “He is more than a coach. He catches everything.” A year ago, Vertynskyi made it possible for his judo students to start a new life with his courage “to take responsibility without knowing where it is going”. Now he also accompanies her through the shallows of puberty and adjustment. Some of his protégés are now on the verge of adulthood. Like all 18-year-olds, they ask themselves: “What’s next?” – but for them the height of the fall seems greater.
“Judo is not just a competition,” emphasizes the moderator at the award ceremony. Judo also stands for a positive influence on society, for values and education. In the election, the JCW prevailed against competitors from South Africa, Israel, Nepal and Romania, who also use the integrative power of sport to campaign together for a more peaceful world: “And the winner is . . .” Then Kyryll Vertynskyi has his performance. The fact that the prize is not endowed with a sum of money in no way diminishes the joy, says Eckelmann: “We have won the honour.”