Russia’s war caught Ukrainian runner Ievgen Dzhadan by surprise. He was in Turkey, where he had planned to spend the winter training in the milder climate. Nowadays he lives with his sister Valentyna in Campulung Moldovenesc, in northern Romania, where he spends his time running, working online and reading books. Lesia Yakovenko, Ievgen’s girlfriend, divides her time between Ukraine, where her family is, and Romania. They feel stranded, unable to make any plans for the future. Ievgen is a 31-year-old accomplished trail and mountain runner, who ranks among the top 5 athletes in Ukraine for this type of running. 

Lesia, Ievgen and Valentyna (right) cook for each other every day.

They live for free in an apartment they found online, which is part of the government's 50/20 program. Romanians who volunteer to host Ukrainians are paid 50 ron per day for housing and 20 lei per day for food for each refugee.

He loves to cook, but hates recipes. Improvisation seems to play a big role in his life these days.

28-year-old Lesia and Ievgen have been together for two years and have quite a lot in common. They both work online, which gave them the freedom to travel before the war. He creates content for social media ads, she does online marketing. They both run, they are both vegetarian.

Ievgen likes Campulung Moldovenesc because, he says, it is ideal for training if you are a mountain runner. It has a stadium, long trails with decent elevation gain and roads with little traffic if you choose wisely.

He has a trainer in Ukraine and they use a phone app to schedule his training plan and monitor Ievgen’s evolution.

A self-described introvert, he rarely interacts with the locals.

“I don’t need a lot of people and a lot of communication in my life. For me, Campulung is a good place for training, I can work online. I also like that there are not a lot of things to distract me from training so I can concentrate on my routine. It’s like a training camp for me.”

“Moscow as the Third Rome: origins of the myth”, a collection of historical articles, rests on his night stand. A few years before the war, Ievgen was the member of a book club in Kyiv and he used to read about fifty books per year. “Now I am down to only ten or fifteen.” he says.

When the war started, Ievgen and Lesia were in shock for three weeks, following the news. Then they decided they needed to make a plan. They had tickets to fly to Ukraine, but all flights were cancelled. Lesia looked at the map and chose Romania, because it was closer to Ukraine. Ievgen’s parents thought it was safer for Valentyna to join her brother in Romania.

Unlike her brother, Valentyna, 21 years old, is an extrovert and yearns to be among people. “I really like this town because they often have some festivals for people, some entertainment.” She hasn’t made friends because she says she hadn’t met a lot of young people who speak English yet in Campulung.

One day Lesia and Ievgen decided to visit a local museum dedicated to wood art, only to discover connections between Romania and Ukraine, ranging from farming tools used by peasants from past centuries, to old maps written in Cyrillic.

Once they recognised the slavonic roots of some of the archaic names of the objects exposed, they began to look for words they could understand without translation.

Towards the end of the visit they both left their contributions to the guest book of the museum, the first reviews in Ukrainian that the museum had received.

Ievgen is also Valentyna’s trainer. She runs a couple of months per year and her brother always teases her about her motivation, calling her Usain Bolt. She is often in pain after running because she does not like to stretch.

Recovering takes almost half the time running does for Ievgen. He takes it very seriously and credits his daily stretching routine for keeping him up and running despite a bad back he inherited from childhood.

He turned to running about ten years ago, mostly as a tool to muster discipline. "I wanted to control my life and it was the first step to do something very simple."

At the beginning he bet his boss that he would run all summer at least 3km each day. He later found out about a marathon. Then a friend told him about a 100km race in Odessa.

"I had one year to prepare. I found a trainer, read books about running, training and physiology, joined a community and so on.”

Valentyna spends most of a regular day inside. She is enrolled in computer science classes and has to be on her laptop many hours each day. For her, running can be a pain, but also a welcome break from screens.

Lesia is very sociable, like Valentyna, and together they often make fun of Ievgen for being an introvert. She says that her family is the only reason she goes back to Ukraine every two months. Her sister has just a baby in Kyiv and she wants to be there to help out as often as possible.

Valentyna is about to embark on a 24 hour trip to their hometown of Khorol, where she wants to spend the New Year with their parents and get warmer clothes for the winter.

Ievgen is trying to help his sister be more independent, a skill he says will be useful later in her life, so he supported her decision to leave alone. Two trains and two buses later, at the end of a trip that eventually took 30 hours, Valentyna made it to her parents safely.

"I must plan my life with the understanding that war might not stop in a few years. I have hope that it stops next year and I go back to normal life in Ukraine, but I don't know what normal life means in Ukraine after war."

This story was created within the project "Strengthening the resilience of Western democracies in response to the war in Ukraine and its consequences at the European and global level" carried out by the Center for Independent Journalism (CJI) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Romania and Moldova.

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