Nikita Bekov: “My Ukrainian uncle is preparing a Molotov cocktail in his cellar”

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Blagnac’s second line, Nikita Bekov, is a Russian international born to a Russian father and Ukrainian mother. Literally torn by events involving his two countries, 26-year-old Blagnac says he is “in shock” with 4 elections and trembles for his relatives in his hometown.

Nikita Bekov still cannot believe his eyes. The Russian international (4 times) was born in Ukraine and this year plays for Blagnac club in the National, after passing Vincennes, Massy and Suresnes. He has been having a real nightmare ever since Vladimir Putin’s Russia attacked Ukraine. His two countries are at war.

Last week, Blagnacais were in the Russian group, which will face Georgia on the third day of the European Rugby Championship, after losses to Romania (34-25) and home defeats to Spain (34-41). The Russians had agreed to meet in Turkey to prepare for this dangerous trip to Georgia. They finally learned on Thursday that the game had been cancelled. The war took everything away.

Therefore, Nikita Bekov returned to France, or rather Paris, to spend some time with his mother and younger sister before returning to Blagnac at the beginning of the week. We spoke to him on Saturday evening. His testimony is instructive.

You are a Russian international, your father is Russian and your mother is Ukrainian. How do you experience the war that hit your two heart countries?

I was very touched. I really can’t believe what I’m seeing. I didn’t think it would get to this point. I have family on both sides of the border and I am very scared especially for the mother side living in Ukraine. I see them on the phone three to four times a day. In general, I see very badly. But for the three days since the war started, I’ve been getting a lot of support messages. It’s a complex situation. It’s really complicated and I’m just thinking about it right now. Rugby is far away…

Where are your parents?

My mother is in Paris with my younger sister and my father is in Russia. He lives in the south of the country, not far from the border with Ukraine, near Rostov. My Ukrainian family lives in the city of Poltava. It is 300 kilometers east of Kiev. So on the Russian side and not far from the border.

What do your relatives in Ukraine tell you?

While my godmother is locked in her home in the north of Kiev, the fighting is just a few kilometers from her home. My cousin and her grandparents have been locked in the cellar for two days as the sirens continue to sound. Finally I have my uncle who is at home now. However, he is making Molotov cocktails in his cellar and says he is ready to fight if the Russian troops arrive in the city. This is unthinkable. So I’ve been in shock for three days. I can’t understand how we got here. These are the places where I live. For me it’s like the war is coming to Paris or Toulouse in France. I was shocked.

What was your course?

I came to France at the age of 7. I was born in Ukraine. My childhood passed between Ukraine and Russia, I lived in both countries, but a little more in Ukraine. At that time, the two peoples were very close. They had the same customs and traditions. So there was no problem of borders or conflicts. When we lived in Ukraine, it was as if we were living in Russia and vice versa. I came to France with my mother. Since then I have been coming back every summer to see my family in Ukraine or Russia. But I’ve been living in France for 18-19 years.

How do you inform yourself about what’s going on there?

I use social networks like Twitter, Instagram and Telegram… Television too. I talk a lot with all the Russian and Ukrainian friends I have in France. We exchange news from our loved ones, send videos. We really feel a great solidarity between us. But this is difficult.

We think your mother is extremely worried. Have you heard from your father who lives in Russia?

Yes, we discussed. As for him, so far so good. But he is very worried about what is happening in Ukraine.

Has anyone seen this attack from Russia?

No one saw it coming. Not him, not me, not anyone in Russia or Ukraine. I was with the Russian selection when I found out. We were supposed to play our third match of the European Rugby Championship against Georgia. We gathered in Turkey to prepare, then on Thursday we were told that the match was cancelled. Yesterday I returned with the second player (Montois Andreï Ostrikov, editor’s note) to play for France on Friday. While we were in the middle of the preparations for the match, we saw that the tension was rising, rising, rising… first clashes Then war. There we said to ourselves that it was not a good idea to go to Georgia and play. Especially since it was a derby… I was already preparing for a nice weekend… Finally, I think the best solution was found. Because frankly, I was afraid for our safety in Georgia.

In normal times, the competition is very big anyway…

Definitely. The week before the match, the Georgian federation posted the announcement of the match on social networks, but… in Ukrainian. It was clearly provocative. We thought we were going to have a bad time.

Do you feel out of this conflict and as a Russian international that you are a victim of the actions of a man named Vladimir Putin?

Clearly. It must be said that not all Russians agree with Putin. We get fined, we pay for broken pottery, and it’s totally unfair. We don’t make the decisions. We go through all of these. This is not fair. Later on, I can understand that some were thinking about Russia being banned from all sporting events. But once again, we should not confuse Russian power with the Russian people or athletes.

Have you talked to other Russian internationals about it?

To be honest, we are not talking about politics. I personally know that my close friends in the election thought the same as me, but I don’t know everyone’s opinion. I feel like this is a war everyone wants to avoid.

We doubt your answer, but what do you think of Vladimir Putin’s decision?

As you said, you have the answer. This is completely unacceptable. I could understand his fears that Ukraine’s integration into NATO might create an imbalance, but he went too far here. Attacking a whole country, a people, people who don’t want anything… I don’t understand. I’m telling you, I’m still in shock.

What nationalities do you have?

I do not have Russian citizenship. I play for Russia because my father is Russian. On the other hand, I have Ukrainian and French citizenship.

So the Ukrainian army can call you at any time?

Yup. Things are clear, if I go to Ukraine today, I cannot leave the country.

Did you have the idea to go there to help?

Yup. But for now, I’m trying to understand what’s going on, that the situation will improve quickly and that the war will stop as soon as possible. In any case, I see more and more of my Ukrainian friends taking up arms to defend their land.

Have you thought about armament?

I thought yes. But I don’t want to fight against either of my two countries. That’s what’s complicated: On the one hand, I want the war to stop, but on the other hand, I cannot fight against Russia. It wouldn’t make sense. Again, I was really educated with a form of balance between the two countries.

Geographically or culturally?

It was the same back then. It was one and the same training. We experienced the same in Ukraine as in Russia. After our separation, the two countries separated. But physically I lived in both countries. A little longer in Ukraine.

How did the two countries separate?

When we left the country, the interests of Ukraine and Russia began to diverge. Basically, Ukraine wanted to be closer to Europe thanks to the neo-independence it achieved after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Before that, it was never independent. Russia viewed this rapprochement with a very weak eye. The first revolution took place after the election of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2004. Massive demonstrations were held, voting was canceled and a pro-European president, Viktor Yushchenko, was elected. Then in the next election Yanukovych came back and in 2016 we experienced the revolution in the main square of the capital Kiev, the Maidan. The President would sign agreements with Europe and take the first step towards its integration. But two days ago, Vladimir Putin asked to see him. As a result, he backed down and refused to sign. Fights broke out. This is where the conflict really begins.

Do you have a message you want to convey?

I want people to understand what’s going on right now. Because it is extremely serious. Because it happened to Ukraine, but it can happen to any country tomorrow. I have no message to convey, I just want to say no to this brutality and war. And again, do not confuse sports with politics. One has nothing to do with the other and vice versa. Athletes should not be exposed to the consequences of policy choices.

We especially think about this rivalry with Georgia, which sometimes seems exaggerated…

Even if the Georgians are playing Russia and are sure they will score forty points, they put on the big team because they say they would rather die than lose to Russia. It’s really a derby and it’s escalated because of the war in 2008.

As a Russian athlete, do you get the impression that you are held responsible for things you are not responsible for?

That’s exactly what I felt as I prepared for the Georgia game this week. I knew they wanted to “kill” us when we were just there to play a rugby match. I’ve never had the opportunity to face them before. Our match was canceled the previous day in 2020 due to Covid and this time it was because of the war. But we do not demand anything from anyone. When you find yourself on the field and your opponents are so hostile towards you, I imagine you put yourself in the same frame of mind. In any case, from the outside, I did not feel the same hatred for the Georgians that developed within our group.

How did you start rugby?

A small Federal 3 club in the Paris area, in Vincennes, when I was 7 years old. I’m at Blagnac today, but it’s really my first time playing for a club located outside of Paris. I went to Massy as a student and stayed here until Espoirs. Then I spent a year at Suresnes on Federal 1 before returning to Massy for a year. And now at Blagnac, National.

We can imagine that rugby is the least of your worries right now…

Clearly yes. We have two games left to play against the Russia selection (Dutch welcome and Portugal trip, editor’s note), but I don’t think we will play them. I don’t know what the future of the Russian rugby team is or when we will be playing again. When I broke up with my Russian friends on Thursday, I had a feeling: I told myself I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while. I’m in Paris with my mom for now, but I’ll be back in Blagnac next week. I will try to return to normal life. I hope so. But there, it’s not possible yet.