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Yaroslav Popovych swaps team duties for Ukrainian humanitarian mission

'I cannot watch the news anymore, because it really hurts me to see what is happening there,' said Trek-Segafredo sports director

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Yaroslav Popovych was supposed to be working as sport director this week at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Instead, the ex-pro is orchestrating an emotional and personal effort to bring medical aid to the people inside his native Ukraine.

Popovych is back in Italy this week after a recent trip to the Ukraine border, where he and two friends drove 1,500km to the Ukraine-Polish border to deliver aid.

Speaking to VeloNews, Popovych said he is packing up a van full of supplies and he expects to depart perhaps as soon as Thursday.

“We bringing all kinds of medical aid to help the soldiers inside Ukraine,” Popovych told VeloNews.

“The situation at the border is very bad. I was there last week, and I saw many people trying to escape the country. We are going there to help.”

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Last month, Popovych was working at the UAE Tour as sport director as the situation in Ukraine worsened. Russian forces finally invaded his home country, and Popovych said he was too torn up emotionally to be able to focus on his job.

“I should have been working this week at Tirreno as a sport director,” Popovych said. “When I was at the UAE Tour, the situation was growing worse, and I found it too difficult to think about the race and do the planning and preparation for the race.”

Popovych, who now lives in Italy with his family, posted an emotional video on Instagram last week to share his feeling. He then spoke with management at Trek-Segafredo about his desire to temporarily step away from his sport director job to do what he could to help the crisis situation in Ukraine.

Popovych and two friends drove 1,500km to the Ukraine-Polish border to deliver aid
Popovych and two friends drove 1,500km to the Ukraine-Polish border to deliver aid (Photo: Yaroslav Popovych)

Trek-Segafredo officials are giving Popovych all the time he needs and is offering help.

Last week, Popovych and friends and associates helped organize a shipment of medical supplies and other equipment and drove 1500km from Italy to the border with Poland. They packed a van full of boxes and made the long drive.

“We were working for 10 days to organize the shipment,” he said. “We drove through Austria, the Czech Republic, and Poland, which is 300km longer, because Hungary would not let us go through to the border area there.

“We worked with local hospitals and pharmacies in Italy, and everyone helped us out to bring other supplies, clothes and things that are needed for the military,” Popovych said. “There is a storage place there where we can leave the things. The situation at the border was very chaotic.”

Ex-pro Popovych is preparing a second van to drive to the Ukraine border

Popovych said he’s been receiving more than 100 phone calls and messages daily from friends and contacts from around the world, including many within the cycling community.

Teams, sport directors and riders are offering to help Popovych with supplies or cash donations so he can fund more trips. He said riders such as John Degenkolb, Robert Wagner, Vincenzo Nibali, Steven de Jongh, Chechu Rubiera, and dozens more have offered help.

Teammate Quinn Simmons started a “Go Fund Me” website to generate donations, and Trek Bikes is also offering assistance.

“The support from the cycling community has been amazing,” he said. “There are so many people who are helping us. I cannot name them all because I do not want to forget anyone. Every donation is so important. I am receiving so many calls every day. Even now talking to you I have received three or four new messages.

“Right now, the most urgent things are the medical kits,” he said. “We are preparing another van to take these days.”

Popovych said much of his family, including his mother and father, brothers and sisters, remain in Ukraine. He said right now where his family is located inside the country there is not any Russian military presence or fighting.

He said people within Ukraine are organizing civil patrols to help guard villages and towns from the Russian invasion.

Popovych said he is torn because if he enters Ukraine, he will not be allowed to leave. He confirmed that he even received what might be considered a draft notice.

The country is conscripting all men aged from 18 to 60 to serve in the military national guard. Right now, he vows to continue to support his compatriots with shipments of much-needed supplies from across Europe.

“It is very hard for people to move inside Ukraine right now. It might take 24 hours to move 300km,” he said. “It is calm now where my family is located inside Ukraine, and they do not want to leave.

“This situation is not easy,” he said. “The cycling community is really helping me. Other normal people, too.

“I cannot watch the news anymore, because it really hurts me to see what is happening there,” Popovych said. “Before I was watching 24 hours a day, but it is really difficult to see all the stuff that is going on. I am focusing on trying to help the people of Ukraine. We are organizing the next trip right now.”

Popovych urged everyone to provide donations and to urge politicians and governments to help the Ukrainian people. After a short chat, Popovych said he had to leave. He was busy preparing for the next van load of humanitarian aid.

A return to bike racing can wait.