‘At 5am I was walking my dogs outside and I heard these huge explosions’

Cricket administrator one of many whose life has been turned upside down by the war in Ukraine

Among a myriad of stories of devastated civilians in Ukraine is that of a South African cricket administrator.

Kobus Olivier – who in a previous job with Netherlands cricket coached against an Irish under-17 side that featured Eoin Morgan, Kevin O'Brien and William Porterfield -–is among the millions who can do nothing but wait and hope for the best.

Olivier, originally from Cape Town, fell in love with Kyiv while on holiday there four years ago and decided to up sticks. He has since become the director of a chain of schools and the chief executive of the Ukrainian Cricket Federation.

Olivier is currently in his apartment with his dogs, and it was while out walking with them that he witnessed first hand the start of the war.

“At four am the bombs started” he explains. “At 5 am I was walking my dogs outside and I heard these huge explosions that didn’t sound very far away. I ran up to my flat, I haven’t put my nose outside since.

“I don’t speak Ukrainian or Russian so my neighbours came to me a few hours ago knocking on my door to tell me there’s been instructions on their mobiles to take blankets, warm clothes and water and to get down to the nearest metro. The subways are bomb shelters. My building and the building next to me are nearly deserted.

“I’ve got four little dogs and I won’t leave them. I can’t take them down to the shelter, there’s gonna be thousands of people down there and they won’t let me in with four dogs. I’m not leaving them behind. I’m sitting in my apartment absolutely terrified.

“I’ve got enough water, food and dog food for a month.”

Olivier may be alone in Kyiv, but in Kharkiv, the hub of Ukrainian cricket, he has heard from players who are in a more dire situation.

"There are 15,000 mainly medical students from Asia in Ukraine in all the big cities" says Olivier.

Senior players

"Kharkiv is the pool of our senior players and they've been playing organised leagues since 2001. Most of those guys spent the night down in the subway with their families. They sat there for nearly 24 hours, they phoned me saying they are sitting like sardines and it sounds like Guy Fawkes out there, it's a terrible battering and they hear bombs going off all night.

“I’ve been told that 2,000 of them are stuck. A lot of them were supposed to be evacuated yesterday morning, the Indian embassy was going to send planes but then the bombing started so that had to be cancelled.”

Though the senior national teams at the moment are made up almost exclusively of expats, Olivier is adamant that the Ukrainians he coaches at youth level – boys and girls – will soon progress. Such growth meant the country looked set to be officially recognised by the International Cricket Council in July.

That seems all a bit redundant now, with sport taking a back seat amid the turmoil. Olivier though doesn’t see it that way as he displays a remarkable sense of optimism.

“Things have to go back to normal at some stage” he forecasts. We’ve still got three months before before the season starts so hopefully people return and we can carry on.

"I'm very positive if I look at Afghanistan. Look at what they've been through with the Taliban and those guys are still playing. That's a hell of an example for us that they're still able to play cricket even after that.

“Sport is something that can lift the mood. Ukraine is going to be devastated. They’ve lost young soldiers and civilians, it’s going to be a very depressing and sad place after this. I think sport can be one of the ways to lift people’s spirits, give them something to look forward to and be positive. I think cricket can play a huge role in that process.”

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