Two Oakland University swimmers from Ukraine balance life and worry with war back home

Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 04, 2022

Danylo Hrebelnyi & Marko Khotynetsyki are from Ukraine and are two of Oakland University’s top swimmers. They recently broke, not just the university record, but the conference record for the 800 meter freestyle relay. When Marko and Danylo are out of the pool, what's going on back home weighs heavily on their shoulders.

“In the morning, I called my dad and asked what happened what’s going on now and the first thing he said was it’s a war,” recalled Hrebelnyi.

Danylo’s dad has spent the last eight days in a bomb shelter, he’s traveling across Ukraine back to Kyiv to get to his step mom.

“She said she woke up from huge explosions,” said Hrebelnyi. “She said the house was jumping.”

Teammates in the pool, but connected by war in their home country.

“It’s 2am and I read that military forces have invaded Ukraine, and now I’m totally shocked, I called my mom, she’s panicking,” said Khotynetsyki. “I told them you need to leave. As soon as the first siren goes off we are leaving the city- we have a car full of gas.”

Daniel and Marko are torn between wanting to act, but not being able to.

“There is a big part of me who wants to go back and fight for Ukraine and our nation,” said Hrebelnyi.

“The worst feeling was that you didn’t know what to do,” said Khotynetsyki. “Just the feeling that you want to help but you can’t help.”

That’s where swimming comes in. Getting in the pool, to escape what’s happening outside of it.

“Swim team here is my family,” said Hrebelnyi. “I have no one here besides the swim team.”

As much as it helps to have swimming as a distraction, it’s just that. But once they get out of the pool, Daniel and Marko are hit with reality.

“Now, it’s not just the war against Ukraine. It’s terrorism,” said Hrebelnyi.

As difficult as it is, Marko and Daniel are finishing their education at Oakland and hope to return to Ukraine, intending to use what they learn in college in Michigan to help back home.