Ukrainian swimmers Aleksiiva train in Nîmes for the Paris Olympics

Nîmes, a two-week stage in their Olympic preparation disrupted by the war in Ukraine. Meet the young Aleksiiva twins, young artistic swimming prodigies.

It’s 6 p.m. in the chlorinated and bright heat of the Nemausa swimming pool. The water lines are drawn and the swimmers continue their evening laps. On the edge of the pool, smiling and available despite their seven hours of daily training, Maryna and Vladyslava Zleksiiva, young 22-year-old Ukrainian swimmers, hopes of a gold medal at the Paris Olympics, still have it. rsquo;energy and grace to tell their lives as champions and their destiny impacted by the never-ending war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian swimmers Aleksiiva train in Nîmes for the Paris Olympics

The sirens of Kharkiv hope to win gold at the Olympics, “to show that Ukraine is strong”. Midi Libre – MiKAEL ANISSET

Their swimming pool destroyed by a missile

The young girls who plunged into artistic swimming at the age of 10, come from the city of Kharkiv, around thirty kilometers from the Russian border. When the war broke out in February 2022, the city became one of the epicenters of the armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The bombs are raining… End of peace, end of innocence! The swimming pool is destroyed by a missile, the windows have been shattered, the water is no longer heated… How to train peacefully when a city is collapsing around you… ;nbsp;? "We went to Italy with the artistic swimming team and the coaches, explain Maryna and Vladyslava in Ukrainian, accompanied by a translator.

A respite from the chaos but worry deep in the heart. They miss the family back home, Vladyslava's husband, the friends too much. "When you are far away abroad, you worry too much. We prefer to be together even under the bombs,they confide, bright smiles when melancholy never leaves their blue eyes. They return to Ukraine after six months, to Kharkhiv, home, then very quickly to kyiv, much further from the front line.

"We have to run and hide"

From their daily lives in this martyred Ukraine, they reveal in secret what will mark them forever. Saying over and over again the fear, "the bombs that we see falling through the window, there is so much stress. When you hear an explosion, you have to quickly run and hide. You never know where it's going to fall, you don't know where to go", says Maryna. Her twin sister also says "the swimming pools destroyed, the deaths every day, the friends who became soldiers, the athletes killed that we knew…& ;quot;

"Show that Ukraine is a strong country"

They are in Nîmes for two weeks, when another part of the Ukrainian swimming team trains in Montpellier. "It’s beautiful here. It’s important to swim in a beautiful pool…", they say at the edge of the Nemausa pools. Then, they will go to Canada to compete before returning to Ukraine. Their coach Olesia Zaitseva watches "her" swimmers with pride : "They are very strong and very pleasant sportswomen". A moved smile, won over by tears , because war never lets go of the spirits.

Ukrainian swimmers Aleksiiva train in Nîmes for the Paris Olympics

The president of Nîmes Métropole presented them with flowers and a city medal. Midi Libre – MiKAEL ANISSET

Already the gold medal… of the City

Tuesday evening, at the Nemausa swimming pool, Franck Proust, president of Nîmes Métropole, delighted with the little publicity boost of their presence here, offered the Aleksiiva sisters a bouquet of flowers and a medal from the city. "It is in gold, while waiting to have an even more beautiful one in Paris", says the & ;rsquo;elected official who tells them he is proud to welcome them."It’is a company specializing in the establishment of athletes in the territory which contacted us…"

From Nîmes, Maryna and Vladyslava only know the swimming pool where they spend seven hours a day training. But there is no question of leaving the city before discovering its beauties. This Sunday, their only day of rest, the tourist office is organizing a short taxi tour for them to marvel at the arenas, the square house and the fountain garden.

Already bronze medalists at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and several times European champions, Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva, hope for a medal at the Paris Olympics in early August where they will swim as a duo at the Saint-Denis aquatic center. They will present a technical program entitled "War Stories" and a free program "Up and down" which recall the war behind the choreographed grace of their duo. "We are very motivated, they say. We want to show the whole world that Ukraine is a strong country" quot;. Their war will be fought in a pool. Their mother will perhaps come to see them in Paris, they hope, "men are not allowed to leave the country".

So courageous and determined to win a medal for their countries, the sirens of Kharkiv have already won our hearts.

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