‘I feel at home here’: Ukrainian judo star settles into new life in Valencia

Valencia, Spain, Jul 4 (EFE).- Daria Bilodid is a Ukrainian judoka who has been setting the Judo high-performance center in Valencia alight since she fled the war in her homeland and moved to the Mediterranean city.

Daria, 22, left Ukraine with her mother, grandmother and dog shortly after Russia’s invasion over four months ago.

“I remember it was the 24th of February and I woke up at 4am because Russia started to attack Ukraine and it was really near my home, so my mum said ‘Daria wake up, the war has started,’” she tells Efe in an interview.

“We just took our clothes, our baggage, and went directly to the west of Ukraine, because it was very dangerous,” the athlete says.

Since then, Daria, together with her mother and grandmother, has been living in the Spanish coastal city where she has continued her training at the Judo high-performance center of Valencia under the guidance of former Spanish judo stars, Sugoi Uriarte and Laura Gómez.

“I wanted to come here for a long time but I didn’t have the time because I had competitions, but I knew about this place, many people come here and feel very good so Sugoi wrote to me on the first day of the war and said ‘Daria come to us, come to Valencia.’”

In 2018, at the age of just 17, Daria became the youngest judoka to win a World Cup.

Three years later, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she won a bronze medal in the under 48 kg category.

“When I came here I was very surprised that in this life I had such good people who can help you, support you. I am from another country but here I feel like I am part of their team and I feel like I am at home,” Daria says, adding that her mother and grandmother are also happy to be in a “safe place with good people”.

“We like Valencia, we feel really really good here,” she says.

Daria goes on to say that although she is very sad about what is happening in her country, she tries to focus on the positive and not think about the war too much.

“I try not to (watch) the news everyday because it is very very difficult, mentally, when you see what Russia is doing with your home, your country, your people.

“But I try to continue to live and not to think too much about it, because I have my life, I know it is difficult but I need to continue it,” she says.

Daria is now training to compete in the under 57 kg category, with her eyes set on the World Championship and 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I think I will be staying in Valencia for a long time, because now in Ukraine it is very dangerous and it is impossible to do normal training,” she says, adding that she does not know when she will be able to compete next but hopes it will be “very soon”.

“I have no idea what will be tomorrow, what will be next year,” the 22-year-old says.

“Many athletes have stayed in Europe, but many stay in Ukraine. They continue to work hard, but in Ukraine it is of course more difficult in a war atmosphere.

“We don’t know what to expect, we just continue to work hard and to do what we like,” EFE


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