This Ukrainian footballer begged his parents to flee. They said they would be safe in Bucha suburb
But they were adamant that they would be fine hiding in their old apartment in the leafy suburb of Bucha.
Fortunately, although Shliakotin’s parents were convinced, they eventually returned – fleeing just before the first Russian tanks arrived. Now they are waiting for refugee status in Germany and tearfully thank their son and daughter with every phone call.
“Then the guy in the video says this is Vokzal’na street, Bucha. This is literally my street, where I spent my childhood, where I went to school, where I walked thousands of times.If my parents had still been there, they probably wouldn’t be alive.Our house was destroyed.
“A few weeks after that, there were scenes of people lying in the road with their hands tied, shot in the head. It’s just…impossible to process. Thank god they’re gone.”
A journey full of pitfalls
Shliakotin does not know what happened to her parents’ apartment, as all their neighbors also fled.
It was a trip full of pitfalls for the couple, in their sixties, who had to flee by car because the airport was under heavy bombardment. The temperatures were below freezing and they had no spare clothes.
The roads were so congested with fleeing Ukrainians – some of them driving children and animals on foot – that it took them four days to reach the Polish border, a journey that would normally take eight hours.
“It looks like some kind of movie. On the last day, they helped bring three children from another family across the border, because the father in the lane behind them couldn’t leave the country,” Shliakotin said.
The footballer is not looking for sympathy.
“You have to understand that even if the stories seem crazy, we are somehow lucky. We have nothing to complain about. Right now in Ukraine, if you lost your apartment but everyone is alive (then ), you don’t even open your mouth to say that something bad happened to you,” he said.
“(Many children) live without their parents…people write phone numbers, names and birth dates on their children’s backs in case they die the next day.”
A higher goal
What Shliakotin – a former Ukrainian national junior team goalkeeper – is seeking, however, is funding to help those stuck at home.
And he found a surprising level of support in his adopted city of Hong Kong.
Starting his footballing career at Dynamo Kyiv’s prestigious youth academy, Shliakotin, now 32, has been a fan favorite in Hong Kong since joining their top league in 2016.
And he found he could leverage that popularity for a good cause, receiving an overwhelming response to his Instagram video posts asking Hong Kongers for help.
“I received thousands of messages of support from day one,” he said. “I was shocked at how many people wanted to help,” Shliakotin said.
His appeals have since funded nine ambulances to be sent to Ukraine, three of which were funded specifically by donations from Hong Kong, and countless small offerings.
“There was a man who contacted me on Facebook, a Mr. Lam, who wrote ‘hey Aleks, I saw the news about Ukraine and I want to donate HK$10,000 ( around $1300), but I want to help a specific person or family who really needs it, if you know someone please let me know.
“I had just heard from a mother and her two daughters from Chernihiv whose house had been destroyed and who were in panic and had nowhere to go. So we sent them the money.
“The family was shocked – they couldn’t believe something like this was possible. That a man from Hong Kong, a place they hadn’t even heard of, would all of a sudden help.
“These are the times when I know that humanity is still alive, that there is still good in the world.”
Two close friends help Shliakotin in his endeavors.
Oresta Brit is a volunteer who has been feeding and transporting children and the elderly since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, while Roman Zozulya is a former Dynamo Kyiv teammate playing in Spain, who helps buy, maintain and repair ambulances in this country. before sending them to Ukraine.
Each ambulance needs documents from the Embassy of Ukraine, and then must be registered with a specific military unit.
Once those boxes are checked, “we fill our ambulances with humanitarian aid, and our volunteers drive them to the border, before my (team) takes over to the final destination,” Shliakotin said.
Zozulya said he and Shliakotin were just part of a network of Ukrainian footballers abroad “uniting to help”.
“While some are fighting on the front lines, we have ours [role] as public figures,” Zozulya said.
“We have this opportunity that others don’t – we can speak to the world and be heard by a lot of people.”