Interviews with Ukrainian kids

Ukrainian team named Kyiv-Kharkiv International started playing in Worldwide Junior Chess League just a few weeks before the war started and immediately proved to be a strong team, capable of great things. In an uncertain future, despite the war going on in their country, Ukrainian kids managed to participate regularly in all Worldwide tournaments.

The proudest moment for Kyiv-Kharkiv team happened on March 9. Playing for the team that bears the names of the two biggest Ukrainian cities, despite heavy shelling, disrupted communications, and constant attacks, brave little Ukrainian chess soldiers managed to achieve their first victory in Worldwide League, winning Round 10 of the U12 Winter League. Each player decided to dedicate this victory to someone.

Received photos and names of players made for a nice article about Kyiv-Kharkiv team. A further step was to organize interviews with them. Children were asked to answer these questions:

  • Tell us more about your participation in online tournaments, your opponents, and the games that you play online?
  • The war is going on in your country. Where are you situated? Are you safe from the attacks now?
  • When did you start playing chess? Who taught you to play chess?
  • What was your first big tournament and achievements?
  • Do you have other hobbies?
  • Do you have a message for your teammates and Ukrainian people?

Bozhena Dobrovolska-Rakhnina

My name is Bozhena Dobrovolska-Rakhnina. I’m trying to participate in all online tournaments because it helps me to practice and to feel like a part of the chess world. I hope that very soon I’ll take part in a real offline chess championship.
I’m glad to see familiar names on the list of participants of our team – I know that they are safe and fine.
Every time I win I share my results with my coach. He is in Kharkiv now, and I think my achievements support him.
My hometown, Kharkiv, is being bombed every day since the beginning of the war. We managed to escape from the city and now I’m in the western part of Ukraine. I don’t feel we are safe but safer than in Kharkiv.
I started playing chess when I was 7. A year later I became the winner of the “Chess for Peace” championship in Luxembourg and took two bronze medals in the Championship of Ukraine (classic and blitz) in the G8 category. Last year I finished second in the Championship of Ukraine in G10.
Apart from chess, I like active sports and music. I do karate and study in a music school. I play bandura – a Ukrainian string folk instrument.

Kira Vasileva

I started playing chess at the age of 9, I started going there by accident, one day I was walking with friends and we got bored, we decided to go see a chess club, I liked it and I still go there. I was taught to play chess by my chess teacher.

  • Tell us more about your participation in online tournaments, your opponents, and the games that you play online?

Opponents in tournaments are both strong and weak, this can be understood by their rating and level of play.

  • The war is going on in your country. Where are you situated? Are you safe from the attacks now?

My family and I left Kharkov for the Kharkov region, it is quiet and safe here, but Russian planes often fly

  • What was your first big tournament and achievements?

Well, it was not quite a tournament, but on June 1, 2019, we set a Ukrainian record for a simultaneous chess session in Gorky Park, then 600 people participated, I then lost, but I really liked taking part there

  • Do you have other hobbies?

I think yes, before the war I went in for swimming, I still really like to play football and pianerball.

Alexandr Chytov

Video message

Hello! I’m Alexandr Chytov, 12 years old. I live in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

  • When the War began, we with my parents go to West Ukraina, Lviv, and there I started to play in U12 tournaments
  • On my first time, on February 2nd, I got even First place with my team! We were so proud of it! Despite the sirens and a lot of sad news, these tournaments gave us many forces!
  • On March 13, we left Ukraine with my mother and little sister and move to Poland. I had tournaments there. Not so successful, but we had a fourth place.
    Then we move to Finland by car with our great friends and I played in the car. Such an unusual experience!
    Here in Oulu people are so kind to us. They even found one chess club for me on Monday, 17.30. I will go there when I am able. I’m safe, thanks to our Finland friends!
  • I started to play chess at 5-6 years old with my mother. She taught me and then took me to the chess club at 7 years. I have two great teachers – Olga Mihajlovna and Nickita Kalembet, her son. It is a family, where three ages play and teach chess, even have a book for students! In our club, everybody can play, even my mom.
  • My first big tournament was when I have had my Second level, last year. Now I want to get the First one.
  • I have two other hobbies, they are 1) riding my horses (our family has two own horses) and 2) the German language, I have online lessons with a teacher from Wroclaw, Poland, and learn in German Gimnazium 23 in Kharkiv.
    But my favorite is playing chess.
    We even play three partners chess with my mom and dad every Sunday!
    I wish to STOP War! To play chess with my good friends in my club and to see my teachers!

Mikhail Kashtanov

Hello. My name is Mikhail Kashtanov. I’m Ukrainian. I’m from Kharkiv. Now I am also in Kharkiv.
I’m 10 years old. My favorite hobby is chess, also football and swimming. I started playing chess at the age of 8.

We had a chessboard at home with no markings. I liked knight. I wanted to understand the rules of the game, so my parents enrolled me in the “Vertical chess club”.
First in importance for me was the tournament in the club “Gagarinets” for the youth category, where I took first place. I also consider the Championship of the Kharkiv region in classical chess under 12 to be significant, where, as a result, I became the champion of the Kharkiv region under 12. In March 2022, I participated in the Worldwide U12 online tournament in the Kyiv-Kharkiv team. We had a strong team. Everyone tried! My opponents were from Germany, Albania, Norway, Egypt, Belarus, and Russia.
I congratulate my team on the excellent results!

Nikita Poloka

I’ve been taking part in online tournaments during the last year. Firstly I was a member of our school chess team and helped it in city competitions. Then I was invited to participate in Ukrainian and international tournaments and it was a pleasure for me to play with boys and girls from all over the world.

Online tournaments allow playing chess from any location you like and with opponents of different professional levels. I started noticing new approaches from my competitors and began using them by myself.
I started playing chess when I was 5, my grandfather taught me.
At the end of 2021, I got 4th sports category.
Besides playing chess I also enjoy playing the guitar.
Now, when the war in my country is going on, and being in safety, I’m trying to focus on my hobbies. They really help.
That’s why I’d like to wish everyone to find the activity you like most of all! They can be really helpful in the hard situations in your life.

Gleb Shvachko

My name is Gleb Shvachko.

I don’t take online tournaments very seriously, I try to explore more and try different not very correct options at first glance, I just try to enjoy playing online, and not really bother with the result, while I play seriously against strong opponents.

  • Now I am in the Czech Republic and I feel safe.
  • I started playing around in the 4th grade, the best coach Denis Alexandrovich Portnov taught me how to play, and in the future, he helped me a lot, for which I am very grateful to him!
  • To be honest, I don’t remember anymore, but in general, there were a lot of good tournaments.
  • I am fond of video games, football, and climbing.
  • I would like to appeal to all Kharkiv chess players, to hold on during this difficult time, I hope to see you all again.

Oleksandr Zichenkov

My name is Oleksandr Zichenkov. I’m from Ukraine, Kyiv. Now I am safe in Western Ukraine. I’m 10 years old.

I started to play chess when I had 6 years old. I like to play chess and solve problems of the chess very much. Also, I like to play football, swim, and play computer games.

I like to play chess with strong opponents because I can study my errors and become get better at chess.

I took sixth place among 141 members in the under-8 group in 2019. And in the fall of 2021, I took 1st place among the first ranks in my chess club.

Elizaveta Ragulina

Hello, my name is Elizaveta Ragulina. I was born in Donetsk. When the war started, we left for Kramatorsk, and then I started to get involved in chess there. Started practicing at the age of 6. My dad showed me first. I became interested and I took them seriously.

Then we went to live in Kharkiv and I continued to play chess and take part in competitions. I like this sport. But then the war started here. Now we are in Dnipro and gladly take part in online tournaments. In such a difficult time, it is very helpful. We, too, seem to be fighting for our country, only on the chess field. Of the most recent achievements before the war, I took third place in the Kharkiv Region Chess Championship. I really want to achieve more and more in this sport. I also like to read and draw, and I also love to assemble Lego. I have many different series and I like to build something of my own out of details.

Ratibor and Dobrynia Mistrekov

Ratibor Mistrekov:
— I really like to play online, because there are strong rivals. Most of all I like to play blitz and team games.

— I am in Turkey now. Yes, I’m safe now.

— I started playing chess at the age of five in the camp. Now my coach Mikhail Viktorovich is teaching me.

— My first big achievement was the “Knight’s Move” tournament, where I took first place.

— I also do swimming and hand-to-hand combat

Dobrynia Mistrekov:
— I really enjoy playing team games online.

— I am in Turkey now. Yes, I’m safe now.

— I started playing chess because my brother is a good player and I wanted to too. My brother and my coach Mikhail Viktorovich teach me.

— My first big tournament was the no ranks tournament.

— I also do hand-to-hand combat and wrestling. And sometimes play tennis with my dad.

Arseniy Filimonov

Hello everyone! I’m Dmitry, father of Arseniy Filimonov, his nickname on Lichess.org – is ArsenF2008, and since he can’t hear or speak, I’ll speak for him.
He was born on 03/22/2008, a few days ago he turned 14 years old. He has been playing chess for about 4 years, since 2018.

Who taught him to play chess? – Probably, the older brother showed him how to walk and the basics of the game. And I decided to take a chance and give it to the chess section. He explained to the coach, that he does not hear and does not speak, but he will try. Everything worked out. He studies among hearing children, grasps everything himself, and understands explanations without hearing speech.
A year ago, in the fall of 2021, he already played in the team of the Kharkiv region. among those who do not hear.
In the fall of 2021 (at the age of 13) he took part in 3 championships of Ukraine –
1) Team tournament for Kharkiv, where the team took 3rd place in Ukraine;
2) Personal Championship of Ukraine among boys under 18, where he took the 3rd prize;
3) The adult championship of Ukraine, also among the deaf, where he was the youngest participant (there were adult players from 18 to 80 years old played, incl. masters and honored masters of sports). According to the result, he scored a high score and completed the 1st category.
This year, 2022, Arseniy was supposed to be included in the Ukrainian national team among the hearing impaired, but the war began.

He is a great fellow (wonderful child). I can imagine how much harder it is to learn if you can’t hear any explanation. A hearing child understands every word, every explanation, but without hearing it is ten times more difficult, many things simply cannot be explained. Nevertheless, he tries, and I love and appreciate him very much.
At one time, he learned the multiplication table just by looking at it. He did it himself when in his class the children were just starting to learn 2×2=4. He was the best in his class in mathematics.
What other hobbies does he have? Everything I offer him. He enjoys cycling and gymnastics. Now I suggested aikido to him, and he also took up this with pleasure. In general, well done. And I, like a dad, learn to be a dad, help him in what he likes, motivate, inspire, support, and of course help him in chess, support him in tournaments, help him grow and enjoy these games.
He and I wish all children, all chess players of all countries – to fall in love with what they do, to find something they like, and to achieve the highest possible results.
Dmitry and Arseniy Filimonovs, Kharkov.


Elena Zagreba (Елена Загреба) video from Mariupol, reports about life in surrounded city under constant bombing, for two weeks period, before she managed to escape with her family. Time of filming: March 2nd – March 16, 2022 Telegram @Elena_Zagreba

More interviews coming soon…

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