Popovych ready to return to Ukraine to fight Russian invasion

Yaroslav Popovych during his racing career with Trek
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yaroslav Popovych has made an emotional plea for aid for Ukraine and suggested he could even return home to fight the Russian invasion, with Andrei Tchmil also ready to defend his bike factory in neighbouring Moldova if Russian troops cross the border from nearby Odessa. 

Popovych is from Drohobych in the west of the Ukraine. He moved to Italy when he was young and became amateur world champion in 2001. He went onto finish third in the 2003 Giro d’Italia and eighth in the 2007 Tour de France before becoming a trusted directeur sportif at Trek-Segafredo.    

He was with the American team at the UAE Tour when Russia invaded Ukraine. He slept little as he tried to help his family and friends from afar and now is helping send vital supplies to Ukraine from his home in Italy.

Fighting back tears in an Instagram video, Popovych called for people to find ways to help wherever they live in the world.

"Our soldiers defend not only Ukraine but also Europe," Popovych wrote alongside his emotional video, echoing sentiments from Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky that have galvanised support from NATO nations.

Speaking to L'Equipe from the UAE Tour, Popovych said he was even ready to return to the Ukraine to defend his country.

"All I think about is going to my country and taking up arms. I hesitated a lot in 2014 [during the annexation of Crimea by Russia, ed], when I was still a rider. I told my wife Friday night and she is very upset. Yet I feel it inside of me, I can't do nothing. Yeah, I'm scared of course, but in 2014 people were under bombs every day, even though a lot less people were talking about it, and I didn't go there. Today, I don't want to hide anymore."

Popovych explained in his Instagram video how a Polish bike owner he met at the Tour de Pologne eight years ago reached out to him and helped some friends travel from Poland to Italy.

"It was an example of how one person helped another person with the click of the fingers," Popovych said.

"In my life I've always never asked for help. I help a lot but I don't ask for help. But now I'll do some lists of things we need for the Ukrainian people. If you can help us, it'll be really nice.

"With my wife and friends in Italy we've already arranged a lot of things. For sure we need some food, clothing and some medical stuff. If you can help it we will send it from Florence and again in the days ahead.

"If you want to help the Ukrainian people and especially Ukrainian kids, try to find on the internet in your country the people who can help."

Popovych ended his emotional video with the Ukrainian national salute: "Slava Ukraine - Glory to Ukraine."

Andrei Tchmil in action at the 1994 Paris-Roubaix

(Image credit: Roberto Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2013)

Tchmil stays in Moldova despite proximity to Ukraine 

Andrei Tchmil called former rival Johan Museeuw on Sunday explaining how he had taken his young wife and one-year-old child to Romania but returned to the Moldova capital Chisinau to defend his eponymous bike business and his country.

Tchmil was born in the Soviet Union and has held Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian nationality. He became a naturalised Belgian during his professional career and won Paris-Roubaix in 1994, Milan-San Remo in 1999 and the Tour of Flanders in 2000. He managed the Katusha team for several years but returned to Moldova to manage a growing bike factory.

"'We used to fight a lot of wars on bicycles, but now I'm in the middle of a war', Andre told me. 'I live on the border area 100 kilometres from where there is fighting',” Museeuw said according to Flemish media.

"He (Tchmil) said he sent his wife and their one-year-old son away to Romania to protect them, but that he is going to stay there. ‘I'm going to fight. I'm going to defend it.’ he said.

"Johan, I wanted to hear from you again. I don't know if I'll be there tomorrow or the day after. I hope so, but I'll give you a big kiss."

Museeuw was moved by Tchmil’s message saying: "Andrei, thanks for the call and I really hope from the bottom of my heart that we can keep calling each other."

On Monday, Tchmil explained to Het Laatste Nieuws that he will fight to keep his bike factory running even if orders have dried up.

“We no longer sell bicycles, nobody orders a bicycle anymore. We have no contracts, no future. I keep my people employed because I don't want to let anyone down. I hope nothing happens to us. We are a ship adrift. We try to steer a course, but damn it, we can't."

Tchmil understands his situation is very precarious. He could escape to Belgium but for now is determined to stay. 

“Chisinau is 185 kilometres from Odessa. We are 75 kilometres from Transnistria, where Ukraine has an important military airport. The Russians will be there on Monday. For me the situation is very complicated. The border is close.

“What happened in Ukraine is happening almost here, in Moldova. Moldova cannot go to war. We don't have an army. Moldova is neutral. It could just happen that someone decides to take Transnistria which is three quarters of an hour from here.”

“A lot of people have called me. I heard Johan Museeuw, Peter Van Petegem. I tell them: where can I go? If I want to leave. Then I take my Belgian passport and come to Belgium. But for now I will stay here.”

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.