Ukrainian gymnast’s plea after body of star, 10, recovered in Mariupol


Ukrainian Olympic coach Ireesha Blohina has visited areas of Ukraine destroyed by Russian forces whose bombardment killed Kateryna Dyachenko (Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)

An Olympic gymnastics coach has pleaded with the sporting world to do more for Ukraine as news emerged that the body of a 10-year-old star has been recovered from the rubble in Mariupol.

Ireesha Blohina said that relatives of Kateryna Dyachenko, who had been tipped for future appearances at the Games, are preparing to say a final farewell to the gifted youngster.

Making an emotional appeal, Ireesha said ‘countless’ more innocent lives have been cut short due to eight weeks of Russian brutality that is ‘a million times worse than a horror film’.

Speaking from her home in Kyiv, from where she operates a rescue and humanitarian organisation that has evacuated hundreds of children from the hardest-hit areas, she said ‘every single person in the world’ has a duty to stop the ‘genocide’ being unleashed by Vladimir Putin.

Katya became one of many civilian victims in the obliterated port city when her home was bombed by Russia last month, killing the medal-winning athlete and her father as the building collapsed.

Ireesha said: ‘Unfortunately Katya’s family were underground when their home was struck by a huge bomb.

‘At first we got news that nobody survived, then a couple of weeks ago we received news that, unfortunately, Katya and her father were dead and the mother and the brother survived.

‘They managed to escape into the Donetsk area. The mother was able to carry her son who was injured with his hips dislocated.

‘From what I understand he has a neurological problem and he cannot walk at the moment.


(Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)

Ireesha Blohina speaks outside a devastated neighbourhood in Borodyanka in a video shared on her Instagram channel (Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)

‘She carried him on her back and somebody picked her up, she had no idea what direction she was going in, and she got help at a hospital in Donetsk.

‘Today we got news that Katya’s body was found alongside that of her father and they will receive a proper burial with a proper grave.

‘The grandfather, who also survived, is going to make sure that it happens.’

Katya was said by those who knew her to be a dedicated and passionate young exponent who one day could have made the Olympics.

Her voice faltering and close to tears, Ireesha said: ‘It’s a huge loss because Katya had a dream, just like any other little girl today has a dream.

‘Katya lost hers, she had everything taken away from her.

‘I am a mother of two children and I don’t know how us women have the strength to live through everything we are seeing.

‘I don’t know how Katya’s mother has the strength, I will do anything I can to help her and the other families in Mariupol who are suffering.

‘Nobody deserves this. Not one single child, not one single mother.’


Exclusive: Gymnast, 11, 'killed in Russian bombardment of Mariupol' was 'aspiring Olympian'

Kateryna Dyachenko poses with a medal and certificate after a competition (Picture: Lidia Vynogradna/@lidiavyn)

Ireesha, 39, is an Olympic coach and choreographer for the Ukrainian rhythmic gymnastics team who has taken a ground-level role since the full-blown Russian invasion began on February 24.

The following day, she and her husband, Aleksey Brynzak, founded the Ukraine Resistance Organisation, aimed at providing equipment for soldiers and humanitarian aid and transportation for civilians.

Ireesha, who is also director of the Deriugina rhythmic gymnastics school, spoke as Moscow stepped up its assault on the east of Ukraine as well as pounding key cities with missiles and air strikes.


Ireesha Blohina

Ireesha Blohina pictured before the Russian invasion in her role as a figurehead for the country’s gymnastics community (Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)


Ireesha Blohina

Ireesha Blohina has remained in Kyiv where her priority since the Russian invasion has been moving people to safety (Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)

Through the hyper-local organisation, the couple has been trying to save hundreds of children and families from population centres where Russian forces have reduced entire neighbourhoods to rubble.

Horrific reports of atrocities and war crimes have emerged from across Ukraine, with hundreds of civilians said to have been killed in northern districts outside Kyiv that were temporarily occupied by Russian troops.

Ireesha has been to pulverised areas including Borodyanka, where Russian troops looted homes and razed apartment blocks to the ground with 500kg bombs. She carried out humanitarian work and showed the scale of devastation in a video she shared on her Instagram channel.


People walk past a residential building, which was heavily damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 18, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Residents walk past a residential building heavily damaged by Russian forces in the southern port city of Mariupol (Picture: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)


A woman reacts while standing in a street, which was damaged during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 17, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A woman reacts while standing in a street heavily damaged by Russian forces who have besieged Mariupol (Picture: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)

Ireesha has also been continuing her coaching work with Ukraine’s national team as it aims to qualify for forthcoming competitions, including the Olympics, despite the fire being rained down on her country.

‘Katya is one kid we are hearing about who has lost her life,’ she said.

‘But there are countless more we hear about every single day in this genocide, which happened right here next to Kyiv.

‘There are still thousands of children hiding in Mariupol where the Russians have been cutting everyone off from the outside world.

‘Women have been raped, and people have been left too traumatised to even speak because of what they suffered and seen.

‘Thank God the gymnastics world is uniting to help people to somehow survive. This is a war on humanity and every single person in the world is responsible for what is happening in Ukraine due to this brutal, evil Satan in Russia. It’s on all of us.


A view shows a torn flag of Ukraine hung on a wire in front an apartment building, which was destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 14, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A Ukrainian flag hung on a wire in front of an apartment building destroyed by Russian forces in Mariupol (Picture: Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)


A Ukrainian soldier stands against the background of an apartment house ruined in the Russian shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

A Ukrainian soldier stands outside an apartment block destroyed by Russian forces in Borodyanka (Picture: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

‘The worst thing of all is that we have been reaching out to the international sports and gymnastics communities, but they didn’t believe that it could get this bad. When the aid from the big companies and organisations is eventually sent here, it’s too late as the towns and cities where it is needed most become cut off from the outside world.

‘The world of sports needs to stand up against this war, to start creating a safety net and standing up to the Russian regime. It’s a million times worse than a horror film. It’s hard to believe this is reality today.

‘We’re at a point where the invasion is escalating and if the world doesn’t do more I don’t know if the independent and flourishing country we knew before February 23 will be left standing.’


(Picture: Ireesha Blohina/@Ireesha_b)

Kateryna Dyachenko was a medal-winning gymnast with a bright future before her life was cut short (Picture: Lidia Vynogradna/@lidiavyn)

Russian forces have refocused their invasion on the east of the country after their advance on the capital stalled in the face of Ukrainian resistance.

Fighters backed by Russia were said today to be attacking a steelworks in Mariupol where the city’s last defenders are holding out.

The end game of the siege is being played out amid a backdrop of atrocities, with a Human Rights Watch director saying the world is at a ‘critical’ moment in documenting alleged war crimes.

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