Ukrainian national team returns to Head of the Charles Regatta

By Faith Pinnow, WEBN Reporter

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Weaving through the crowds of collegiate athletes and spectators, it was hard to miss the flashes of the blue and yellow Ukrainian flags that hung from tents along the shore of the Charles River. For the second year in a row, the Ukrainian national rowing team traveled to Boston to compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta. 

After an overwhelmingly warm welcome last year, Ukraine brought a Women’s Four, a Men’s Championship Eight, a Women’s Single, a Men’s Pair, and a Youth Four to this year’s competition. The team’s arrival was highly anticipated, as the war between Ukraine and Russia surpasses its 20-month mark this weekend. 

The invitation to row in this competition represents strong support for Ukraine by the Head of the Charles organizing committee. Their travel and housing, made possible by donations from HOC donors, offer a bridge between the two nations through athletics. Dmytro Hula, a member of the Men’s Championship Eights boat, says that traveling to Boston to participate in such a visible event exemplifies the strength and determination of all Ukrainians. 

“The opportunity to represent our country here is a big honor for us because of course war is still very much going on and we need the support of the whole world,” Hula said. “This is why it’s important to talk about Ukraine. We need support of course, but secondly, life is going on in Ukraine and we are still alive and fighting. This is it. Our soldiers on the front lines inspire us to represent our country the best that we can.”

The Head of the Charles is the largest Regatta in the world, attracting over 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of spectators. However, despite the similarities that many rowers share, few can relate to the challenging training conditions that led up to the competition. 

Following attacks that damaged Ukraine’s critical infrastructure in the winter, the team trained through periods without heat, electricity, and hot water. “We knew that we must adjust. We got powerbanks and lighters and flashlight and tried to adjust in that way,” said Olena Chupryna, head coach of the team. 

As Chupryna showed photos of her team practicing in the dark, lit only by the small screens from the stationary rowing machines, she tearfully recalled how each athlete persevered. “Everyone was determined. Nobody was crying about it. Everyone was just doing their job,” Chupryna said. 

Feeling the support from organizers, spectators, and fellow athletes, the Ukrainian national team has aspirations to return to Boston for next year’s Regatta. “The amount of attention to rowers and to our sport is incredible here,” Hula said. He praised the large turnout of vendors and fans and noted how rare it is to find that camaraderie at other races. “This occasion is incredible, really, the States know how to host the big sporting events.”