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Prince George student running today for his family in Ukraine

Event raising funds for displaced Ukrainians caught in war; reception/rally planned for 4:15 p.m. at city hall
Vova Pluzhnikov and some supporters run along 15th Avenue early Tuesday morning at the start of the Run For Ukraine.

Vova Pluzhnikov has completed plenty of 10-kilometre training runs and throughout the course of his six-year career as a university basketball player for the UNBC Timberwolves he’s probably run close to the width of Canada.

But this is different. He’s never run a marathon distance, like he plans to do today.

Starting at 6 a.m., the 26-year-old native of Kharkiv, Ukraine began his Run For Ukraine: 44 km for 44 million – a fundraiser to help the people of his homeland who have been displaced by the Russian invasion.

Pluzhnikov started his run from city hall at 6 and headed to the base of Cranbrook Hill at University Way and Foothills Boulevard, then made the return trip to city hall. He’ll start each successive segment from city hall at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:30 p. m. and  3 p. m., before ending it back where he started around 4:15 p.m., with a reception/rally to follow.

A marathon is 42.2 km and Pluzhnikov hopes to have plenty of company with him to help him reach the finish of his run. He plans to maintain the same pace and get to each destination in less than an hour. The total distance is closer to 45 km and each there-and-back segment is about nine kilometres. He’ll delay the start of the final run to city hall until about 3 p.m. to allow more people to join him. He wants to run one km for every million Ukrainians caught in the conflict.

“It’s definitely a new distance for me,” he said. “I have run 10 kilometres before but I haven’t run a marathon and that’s one of the reasons I broke it down into smaller parts and I wanted more people to participate and support it as the day goes on. I’m excited for the physical challenge.”

An online donation site that has so far collected more than $32,000 has been established through the Red Cross, which will direct all the money raised to people who desperately need it. An estimated 1.7 million displaced residents having already fled the Ukraine to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

Pluzhnikov’s parents, grandfather, brother and sister-in-law have been hunkered down in their homes in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine near the Russian border, one of the hardest-hit cities in the war. On Sunday morning, his parents, grandfather and the family dog left their Kharkiv apartment and headed to a rural cabin on the outskirts of the city. His 33-year-old brother and sister-in-law are now in western Ukraine, where they are staying with friends.

“They’re not planning on trying to leave the country because, unfortunately, men are obligated to stay and I don’t think my sister-in-law is ready to leave my brother,” said Pluzhnikov, a commerce student at UNBC.

“My parents haven’t been to the cabin for awhile and they had to clean up lots of snow and the last message I got from my dad was my mom just passed out, she was very tired. Hopefully they get some sleep and we can connect in the morning.”

Grocery stores are still open and he knows of bakeries delivering food to people hiding in shelters. He said gas stations are providing free fuel to emergency vehicles. In the area of Kharkiv where his family lives, infrastructure is still intact, but he knows of other parts of the city which are without electricity, heat, or internet connections.

“As far as I know, our mayor is doing a pretty good job of staying on top of all those supply-chain issues,” said Pluzhnikov.

“Yesterday it was quiet compared to the days before and the latest news is pretty positive, but as far as know, shelling and bombing continues and people are still very worried about their homes and their friends and it’s very unfortunate what’s happening now.

“Three days ago, (he saw) the videos and photos of the destroyed square in the centre of the city and my university where I used to go, the basketball gym was destroyed a couple days ago. Those things are very hard to look at, but also those things bring very good memories I had. I just hope, that at some point we’ll be able to, as a nation, come back and restore our community, our city, and celebrate life when the time comes.”