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War in Ukraine, peace at the gaming table

“Come on Renata! Come on Masha!” Two shouts of encouragement are heard between the sound of the balls and the shovel hits. The activity is maximum in a Joana Ballart full of gaming tables. There are up to 32 installed for the Catalan Youth Table Tennis Championships that are held in this pavilion in Valls, which has become the epicenter of this sport during this past Easter.

In one of them, the young Renata Shypsha and Maria ‘Masha’ Kuznetsova, two of the strongest promises of the Taula Ganxets Tennis Club, combine their actions. They are 11 and 13 years old and for the first time they compete together in a base tournament.

Both make up the duo of the Reus club in the female children’s category, although in reality Renata is still a youngster. Despite this difference and their young age, they form a good couple thanks to their refined technique, who work almost daily at the competition school under the supervision of Svetlana Skobina.

They celebrate their points effusively by shaking hands; and they encourage each other as they go through rounds. From the stands they also attract the attention of the fans, although very few know their origins: Renata is from Kremenchug, in the Ukraine, and ‘Masha’, from Perm, in Russia.

Coincidences of fate, the CTT Ganxets has united them in this championship while 4,000 kilometers away their countries are in the midst of a war. The invasion of Russian troops in Ukrainian territory already adds up to a tragic balance of 2,072 dead civilians, 169 of them children, since the war broke out on February 24.

«We were looking for a competitive couple and we thought that the two of them together could do well. We did not intend anything more than that, ”says the president of the Ganxets, Joan Carles Virgili, about the union between Renata, who has lived in Cambrils for several years, and Masha, who lives in Reus.

“If sport does not understand flags, less should people’s lives,” says the president of the Ganxets

“If sport does not understand flags, less should people’s lives,” adds the leader, who reveals that the Ukrainian and Russian families that are in the club – several more in addition to these two specific cases – “avoid talking” at all times of the conflict. “They bring their sons and daughters to train at our facilities, but once there they only talk about sport and competition,” he explains.

Masha and Renata, in full action.

Family in Ukraine

Renata, who has been placed among the best sub12 in the international ranking and has even made her debut with the Ganxets first team in the women’s Honor Superdivision, has her paternal grandmother and part of her family in Ukraine.

The president is clear that “we want to give our support to all those who suffer from this war closely, and as a club we will always be in favor of peace.” The club, in this sense, will offer its facilities to Ukrainian refugees to practice table tennis.

The CTT Ganxets offers Ukrainian refugees its facilities to practice table tennis

Totally oblivious to the battle, Renata and Masha have not done badly at Valls. Together they have risen in this Joves de Valls Championship of Catalonia with the bronze medal for children’s teams (competition in which two singles and one double are played), while in the doubles category they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

five medals

In the children’s individual event, Renata was also runner-up, while in the juvenile category (the one that corresponds to her due to her age) she was proclaimed team and doubles champion together with Paula Postigo, and also won the bronze medal in individual.

With a total of five medals, she was the most successful of the 28 paddlers presented by the CTT Ganxets in the championship held at the Joana Ballart.

Renata and Masha are also part of the second absolute team of the Reus club, which this year has set itself the goal of being promoted to the Division of Honor (the second highest national category).

Together with both, they complete the squad Svetlana Skobina, of Russian origin, nationalized Spanish and coach of both; Tetiana Zghurska, a Ukrainian living in Russia; Alexandra Zhiriacova, Moldovan; and the locals Alba Virgili and Paula Postigo.

20 paddlers with Ukrainian, Russian and Moldovan origin

The CTT Ganxets de Reus has in its ranks 20 paddlers from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova, another former Soviet republic. The best-known faces are Svetlana Skobina, born in Russia and nationalized Spanish who has been part of the club since its foundation (she currently belongs to the Reus second team in addition to being a base coach); Anastasia Kolish, a Russian U23 international who has already spent three seasons in the first team; and Svetlana Bakhtina, of Russian origin and Spanish nationality, signed this campaign for the Women’s Superdivision.

In the base teams are the majority of those paddlers with roots in Ukraine, Russia and Moldova, almost all with a social scholarship after the pandemic left their families unemployed for the last two years, dedicated in large numbers to the tourism sector.

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