Kobus Olivier understood the bombs would eventually fall.
He had actually invested 10 anxiety-filled days and sleep deprived nights anticipating their arrival in his home in the quiet residential area of Nyvky, in the western part of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city. He envisioned blood and remains. He foresaw rubble and destroy. As he peered into the endless void of his impending future, he fell deeper into the dark blackness of his own dread.
Which is why, in the early hours of February 24, while strolling his 4 pets after another night of insomnia, the noise of staccato surges in the near distance brought an unexpected sense of calm.
” I was frightened,” Olivier said with a beaming smile he preserved throughout a practically two-hour-long video call. “It was genuinely the most scary experience of my life. I was stunned. For a few seconds I could not move.
” However it was likewise a relief. It seems crazy to state, however I was eliminated since I had something I might react to. The Russians had actually come as I knew they would. I didn’t have to wait and think of what would happen, which was the hardest part. I didn’t have time to think. I had to act and was going on adrenalin. That was a relief.”
Along with Tickey, a greying cross-breed with Yorkshire terrier in her origins, and her three offspring, Ollie, Kaya and Jessie, Olivier turned tail and raced back to his seventh-floor house that looked straight into the maw of war.
He threw bed mattress over the windows as a guard from shattering glass. While Russian soldiers took their first steps in an intrusion that would go on for much longer than their president, Vladimir Putin, had hoped, Olivier and his “children”, as he calls his pet dogs, braced themselves for the coming storm.
Life in the short term
If Olivier had anything resembling a long-term prepare for his life, he might inform you he was never ever meant to be in Ukraine.
A self-proclaimed “cricket nomad”, he has actually been browsing the world as if caught on a breeze while using the sport he enjoys to earn an earnings and facilitate his passion for travel.
His journey began as a gamer in SA, his house country, where he ended up being a respected opening batter on the club scene in the Western Cape prior to spending more than a years playing league cricket in the UK. By his own admission, he was never talented enough to turn pro.
” My greatest problem was that I got anxious when playing against big names and would spend the entire week worrying prior to a match.”
But he was a natural coach, able to empathise with players who needed a softer touch to take advantage of their abilities.
He cut his teeth at the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, and grew under the wing of former Proteas coach Bob Woolmer at Avendale Cricket Club.
He coached in Amsterdam and Glasgow prior to being selected CEO of Cricket Kenya in2014 After a year in East Africa, Olivier relocated to Dubai and established his own academy, welcoming home names such as Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes as guest coaches. In 2017, he partnered with Indian spinner Ravichandran Aswhin in establishing the Gen-Next Kings’ Cricket Academy while likewise serving as director of cricket at one of the city’s leading independent schools.
Outwardly he was prospering. He received a healthy income and had an apartment in the wealthy Dubai Marina. But years of limitless graft had taken its toll. He required a break from the heat and entered search of a nation with an abundance of snow and a lack of cricket.
” Ukraine was a mistake,” Olivier said.
” I went to Kyiv however for some reason I believed the city was in Slovakia. I just learnt when I went to the Slovakian embassy to get my visa. That shows how I never had a set concept of what I was doing.”
His very first trip lasted 5 days, however he was quickly hooked. Knee-deep snow, cobblestoned roads, museums, ballet recitals and an old-world European appeal was the precise cocktail Olivier had been searching for.
” I keep in mind seeming like I ‘d discovered my home,” he said. “I fell in love with the city. The food, the buildings, even the odor. I can’t discuss it. Kyiv had me.”
It is at this point in the discussion that Olivier takes an unusual reflective pause. He’s in a coffeehouse in Zagreb, Croatia, about 1,500 km from the city that stole his heart and Putin has actually tried to steal with violence.
Across the roadway is a police station where Olivier will request a humanitarian visa that will allow him to live and operate in the nation.
” I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Kyiv,” he stated mournfully.
” Ukraine will never ever be the same once again.”
It wasn’t long after his first check out that he settled in Kyiv, leaving behind his life in Dubai but bringing with him his elderly daddy and Tickey, who later on gave birth to three puppies.
Olivier transformed himself as an English teacher at a private school and hosted corporate team-building events. It wasn’t long prior to cricket wormed its method back into his orbit.
” I expect I couldn’t leave it. Once cricket remains in your blood it remains there.”
He began with impromptu training sessions at his school with plastic bats and soft balls. Soon he had a program that was duplicated in other schools. Vacation camps were established. Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor and a former world heavyweight boxing champ, offered his assistance. Not long after, the president of the Ukraine Cricket Federation (UCF), Hardeep Singh, asked if Olivier wishes to work as the organisation’s CEO in 2020.
The UCF was established in 2000 and mainly filled with Indian expats, mostly pulled from a large student base in the eastern city of Kharkiv. What was doing not have was a sustainable grassroots program, which became Olivier’s main focus.
Through the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, and after his daddy’s death in 2021, Olivier persevered with his objective to secure Ukraine’s status as an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
” I’ve worked relentlessly on this for 3 years,” Olivier stated.
” It was practically a fixation, my function. There are leagues, matches, competitions already. We did not have a correct junior infrastructure. I was the only level 3 coach in Ukraine and you require some expertise training youngsters. We’ve sent our final documents to end up being an associate member. We’re still holding thumbs.”
On September 14 2020, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy approved his nation’s nationwide security method, that included a partnership with Nato. This had the possible to bring Russia’s largest western neighbour into the fold of the US-led intergovernmental military alliance.
By November 2021, a reported 92,000 Russian soldiers were on the Ukraine border and increased to almost 200,000 within 4 months. In February this year battling in the separatist areas of eastern Ukraine, which had been going on because 2014, intensified.
Olivier could see the clouds gathering on the horizon. His uncle Gerrit Olivier was SA’s very first ambassador to Russia in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Discussions between the 2 had sealed the idea that war was imminent. 10 days prior to the invasion, Olivier began preparing.
He began to incrementally withdraw money from his bank to exchange for United States dollars. On his way home he would fill bags with groceries, carrying as much tinned food, dried fruit, bottled water and dog food as he could bring.
” People thought I ‘d gone insane,” he stated.
” Buddies started snapping with me. They said I was warmongering and triggering panic. I told them those Russian soldiers weren’t on a vacation. They were there for a purpose. I had severe arguments and a couple of people accused me of being a Russian representative or a pro-Kremlin supporter. It got heated and aggressive. They could not accept what was taking place.”
Olivier reports a sense of denialism that conquered his city. He said he was invited to “war parties” at which Ukrainians would drink vodka and mockingly toast Putin’s obvious posturing.
Truth hit like a rocket strike, but Olivier did not think of getting away yet. He had adequate arrangements for himself and his pets for three months. He ‘d wait and see.
For 3 days bombs fell in the distance, illuminating the sky. Olivier heard machine-gun fire near his building.
” That was battling between Ukrainians and Russian saboteurs,” he stated.
” The government provided Ukrainian citizens weapons. I saw old ladies arm themselves and make Molotov cocktails.”
Within a day of the invasion, Russian soldiers had actually seized Hostomel Airport, northwest of Kyiv. Central Kyiv was struck by artillery two days later on. On March 1 practically every suburb surrounding the capital was bombarded. Intelligence reports claimed an advancing Russian convoy would arrive in Kyiv within 48 hours.
When rockets struck Irpin, a 30- minute drive away, and Russians got in Bucha, where they would later dedicate confirmed war criminal activities, Olivier identified time was going out.
On March 3 he travelled 605 km west to Ivano-Frankivsk, where he invested 5 nights in a makeshift refugee camp at a school.
After that he moved north and crossed the Polish border, taking home in a comfy home on a buddy’s farm in Glowno, about an hour outside Warsaw.
The excruciating lightness of being Ukraine
Olivier admitted to the double yank he felt when he ran away with his dogs. Ukraine was his embraced home. He had actually buried his dad in its soil. Yet, like the other 5.3-million people who have run away Ukraine, his primary concern was self-preservation.
Residing in peace, he pondered a new life in Poland. Fate would have other concepts as the Polish government, suddenly swamped with more than 2 million refugees, altered a law and put a 15- day limitation on third party nationals living in the country without a residence permit.
Olivier had 8 days to make another plan prior to being categorized “prohibited” and having his pet dogs taken away from him.
He required to find a non-Schengen nation that was also a member of the EU. Croatia fit the expense and, through his newly found fame thanks to his Instagram stories and a number of articles chronicling his ordeal, he organized an apartment or condo in Zagreb. He just required to get there.
The last trek
No airline company would accommodate all 4 canines simultaneously and he wouldn’t be permitted to return to Poland once he had actually left. Public transportation wasn’t an alternative, given that he would be making the trek without help. He had no option but to drive the 970 km through Slovakia and Hungary to sanctuary.
He quickly bought a lime-green 1996 Audi Avant station wagon and, with his pet dogs loaded snugly in the back, started the 12- hour drive.
After a delay at the Hungarian border, which required him to invest 2 freezing nights in his cars and truck, he and the hounds made their method to Zagreb on March 3.
” I still can’t think where I am,” Olivier stated.
” I understand how fortunate I am to be alive and to have my pets with me and to be safe. I see Ukrainian refugees line the streets, stand in long lines waiting to get documents that will grant them security. I have actually seen the images on the news and social media. They have absolutely nothing. My heart pities these people.”
This is why Olivier has actually devoted his time to assisting those in requirement. He has partnered with Voices of Kid, a charity that supplies mental support to Ukrainian children impacted by the war. He uses free English lessons and plays games with them, anything to sidetrack from the haunting visions they have brought for more than 2 months. He has also started designing a method to utilize cricket as a tool for dealing with post-traumatic stress.
” I’m not quiting on Ukraine,” Olivier stated, smiling however with an unfaltering look in his eye.
” We’re still pushing for ICC recognition. That stays the goal.
” I won’t quit hope. Ukrainians will never quit their country. Their children and daddies and siblings are fighting and craving their country. Their homes have been damaged. These are my people and I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
This post was very first published by New Frame