Yaroslava Mahuchikh overcame the “total panic” of armed conflict in her native Ukraine to win gold in the high jump at the World Indoor Championships on Saturday. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mahuchikh was forced to flee her home, hide out in a cellar and eventually make the 2,000km trip over three days to Belgrade to face what she dubbed her own front line. The reigning European indoor high jump champion, who won Olympic bronze in Tokyo and world outdoor silver in Doha in 2019, left her home in Dnipro just three weeks ago as the conflict escalated.
She found her way to Serbia after “hundreds of phone calls, many changes of direction, explosions, fires, and air raid sirens”.
Coming into the competition at 1.88m, Mahuchikh had a failure at 1.92 and two at 2.00 before making the latter height.
She sailed over 2.02 to ramp up the pressure on Eleanor Patterson. The Australian responded by passing, so the bar was raised to 2.04m.
But when Patterson failed at the new height, Mahuchikh was left celebrating in the Stark Arena, the crowd rising for a standing ovation with a handful of Ukrainian flags fluttering.
Patterson claimed silver with 2.00m, with Kazakhstan’s Nadezhda Dubovitskaya taking bronze (1.98).
“To win a silver behind Yaroslava makes it even more special,” said Patterson, who had painted her nails with a blue and yellow loveheart in support of Ukraine.
“She’s had to deal with such hardships that no one deserves to, so I’m incredibly proud of her too.
“I’m in the same hotel as the Ukrainian team and I was able to see them beforehand and exchange small smiles and little gestures of support.”
Mahuchikh, 20, is one of an all-female, six-strong Ukraine team in Belgrade.
Her teammate Iryna Gerashchenko, who fled her Kyiv with her husband and dog amid “everything at once: bombs and rockets” but no kit, finished fifth in the high jump with a best of 1.92m.
“I have such respect for both girls and all the Ukrainians who have made it here,” added Patterson. “It’s incredible to see them and phenomenal for Yaroslava to come away with the gold.”
Mahuchikh’s victory came in the absence of Russia’s Mariya Lasitskene, who won gold in Tokyo competing as an accredited neutral athlete.
But Lasitskene was ruled out of the world indoors following World Athletics’ ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.