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Ukraine's Kyryl Natyazhko: What it's like to play for a country at war

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This was supposed to be our year. Nobody expected us to do anything at the Eurobasket last season and we shocked everybody by playing our way into the sixth position and qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in Ukraine's history.

We thought we would be the big thing in the country this summer, but obviously we're being upstaged by the wild situation back home, with young people fighting and dying in scores in the Eastern part of our nation.

It's mindboggling to me how the situation there has deteriorated so quickly. If you told me one year ago that this was going to happen, I would have said you were crazy. It really came out of nowhere.

Now there's no telling if the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. I played for Azovmash, which is located in Mariupol, a city in the middle of the troubled area of the country, and it was pretty insane already back in April and May. For what I'm hearing, it's an even nastier situation now. Everything is so unstable that it's hard to make a prediction about the future.

Sadly, there's not much we can do on our end. The team motto is to focus on the things we can control. You can talk about the war, think about the war and lose sleep over the war, but it's going to change nothing. We must stay focused.

Even with everything that's going on back home, the atmosphere on the team is pretty good. We have a couple of players that are from the East or have family in the area where the fighting is happening, but there are no issues with that. We're happy that we're going to be able to represent Ukraine at the World Cup for the first time and there's unity here. There's no Ukrainian-speaking guys on one side and Russian-speaking players on the other.

I'm a Russian-speaking person myself and I never felt any discrimination in Ukraine because of it. I never felt that was an issue for anybody at all up until this year. It was just never brought up. I never felt any pressure to speak one language or another. I went to an Ukrainian Russian school and it was never an issue. I never heard anyone saying, "You're wrong for speaking Russian." Even to this day, you can go to downtown Kyiv and speak Russian and there will be no trouble with that.

The truth is there's actually not much trouble in the country outside of the Eastern regions. Although we went to Lithuania for a while, we spent most of training camp in Ukraine. It's all peaceful and normal in most of the nation and that made preparation for the World Cup pretty standard given the circumstances.

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Now we want to make some noise here in Spain and quiet down the bad news if only one bit. Ukraine is in need of good news right now and I'm hoping we can do something positive for our country.

But most of all, I hope for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine. If you think the fighting is going to solve any problem, I think you're crazy.

Kyryl Natyazhko is a 6-foot-10 center that plays for the Ukrainian National Team. He played three years of college basketball with Arizona.

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