Olga Bondar makes the daily trip from her home in central Kiev to the hippodrome outside the city to care for and feed her horses. She knows the dangers involved, but she cannot abandon her horses. She has no intention of leaving a beleaguered country.
“When I come here, I don’t know if I will go home because anything can happen in wartime,” she said. “You don’t know if you’ll be alive tomorrow.”
Bondar is a trainer, driver and vice-director of the Kyiv racecourse, one of two racecourses in Ukraine. The Kiev hippodrome organizes races for different breeds of trotters. The Odessa hippodrome organizes races for trotters and thoroughbreds. Both runways have been closed since the start of the Russian invasion.
According to a report by Free Radio Europe, the Odessa track was built in 1890 by the Russian tsars. “There the rich and the glamorous gathered to see, be seen, drink champagne, eat caviar and bet on the finest horse meat in the empire,” the story read. The track fell on hard times after the fall of the Soviet Union.
A story in the Odessa Diary on the opening day of the track’s 2021 season, he reported on the current state of Ukrainian races and efforts to get people to attend.
“Horse breeding has been going through difficult times in Ukraine for many years,” Konstantin Savchits, director of the Odessa Hippodrome, told the newspaper. “For this we organize such events to popularize equestrian sports. We try to involve the people of Odessa. After all, many don’t even know that we have a racecourse with a very colorful history.
According to a 2005 report by Reutersthe winning purse at the Kyiv track was around $10 or $15 per race.
But both tracks managed to survive. The Kyiv track ran on Sunday, remaining open until two weeks ago.
“Horse racing has ceased. Our main goal now is to be alive,” Bondar said. “The only thing we can do is support each other and take care of the horses.”
Bondar said some of those who look after the horses stay around the clock at the racecourse, believing it to be safer than elsewhere. But Bondar has the added responsibility of caring for his elderly mother, who lives in Kyiv. So she makes the trip every day, even if it’s not safe.
“The war is taking place about 20 kilometers from the Hippodrome,” she said. “We hear them shooting.”
Training was also halted. The best they can do for now is walk the horses. There are 150 racehorses in the field, she said, plus another 200 pleasure horses. Everyone does what they can to get there.
“Some of our people have gone to fight,” she said. “Some people evacuated. But we have people who come to feed the horses, to help them. It’s difficult. We fight and we struggle and people are afraid. Nothing is normal because there is a war. We are scared. Before the invasion, I couldn’t believe this was possible. The things you see on TV, it really happens. It’s horrible.
Bondar’s biggest concern is that she will run out of hay to feed the horses. She said they had enough for now, but that could change.
“Every day we try to buy hay, but it’s difficult because you can’t go to all the villages where you can buy hay,” she said. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We try to get through each day and then we decide on the next step. We have enough food for about a month. If the war continues, we will have difficulty feeding the horses.
In the face of Russian military might, the Ukrainians face long hardships, but Bondar has not lost hope.
“Yeah, I’m sure we’ll win,” she said. ” It’s just a matter of time. We stay strong.
That’s all she can do for now, stay strong. She must. Her horses need her.