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Family back in Ukraine never far from thoughts of Prince George resident

Former UNBC basketball star Vova Pluzhnikov wants people in Prince George to realize that Ukraine war and Russian invasion poses threat to world democracy

Saturday marked the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but for Vova Pluzhnikov that war really began in 2014 with the Russians annexed Crimea.

That was nearly 10 years ago and there appears no end in sight to the fighting that’s destroying his country.

“I kind of want emphasize the initial invasion took place in 2014, so we just went in to the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine but it’s been two years since the full-scale war started and unfortunately the situation hasn’t changed much,” said Pluzhnikov.

The 29-year-old Prince George financial advisor was born and raised in Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city and one of the hardest hit by the war. His parents, brother and sister-in-law, cousins and friends are still in Ukraine and it’s a daily struggle for them dealing with the threat of airstrikes and bombing attacks.

“It’s very tough for my people and I’m not in a position to say how they feel and what they’re going through but from what I’ve heard, things are not getting better,” he said. “I check my notifications from different social media from back home and you read about another apartment building, another hospital, another school being bombed and destroyed and people missing and dead and wounded and hurt.

“Every day something happens and unfortunately the harsh reality is that our neighbours’ playbook is very unconventional. They’re trying to wear us out and prolong this war for as long as possible because they have unlimited resources, something we don’t, unfortunately. They have the support of millions of people who have been brainwashed and told this is the right thing to do to take away the territory of some other people.”

Pluzhnikov’s parents are living in an apartment in downtown Kviv, which is safer than their homes in Kharkiv but not without danger. His mother is an architect/engineer and his father teaches physical education. Since the war began, they both work remotely.

Kharkiv is in eastern Ukraine, close to the frontlines of the war, and is targeted regularly. Most of the gymnasiums and the pool where his father taught kids how to swim have been destroyed by explosions. Students gather in bomb shelters and subway tunnels for their classes, while apartment dwellers respond to air-raid sirens by rushing to the elevator shafts of their buildings.

“We’ve been hit and bombed pretty much every day since February 24, 2022,” said Pluzhnikov. “Sometimes you hear about bombs being dropped on locations we used to visit and sometimes the bombs hit way to close to where my parents are right now. It’s something we have to deal with.”

His older brother Anton, 35, serves as an IT logistics specialist in the Ukrainian military and he advises the country’s defence leaders. He lives with his wife on the outskirts of Kviv.

“He’s enjoying what he’s doing, he’s very patriotic and inspiring and I get reports from him all the time,” said Pluzhnikov. “I couldn’t be more proud of him for what he’s doing. He’ll always be my role model, number one.”

Pluzhnikov is well known around UNBC, having played five seasons at point guard for the Timberwolves basketball team while studying commerce from 2016-2022. He ranks as the team’s all-time assists leader, is third in career points, and now serves as one of the team’s assistant coach.

In March 2022, Pluzhnikov organized the Run For Ukraine, a 44-kilometre run (one for every million Ukrainians) through the streets of Prince George, which raised more than $50,000 for the war effort in his homeland.