Elle Rastvortseva cried a lot throughout the first week and a half of the war. Her mother spoke as if each day could be her last in those first few days. Rastvortseva could hear the bombs explode over the phone from her dorm room at UC Davis. Her mother informed her of the whereabouts of all the key documents. What to do if the worst were to happen.
“I’d get these solitary messages,” Rastvortseva explained. ‘We adore you,’ they say.
Her family has since departed Kiev for a safer environment with her maternal grandparents in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region, but the situation there is worse by the day.
The sound of range balls dropping out of a machine reminds 18-year-old Rastvortseva of the shelling on the golf course, which is the only place where she feels free. Her heart races when she sees the orange hue of a California sunset, which she sometimes mistook for the glow of a fire after a missile strike.
“With me, too,” Rastvortseva added, “my mind was thinking in the way that the conflict was happening right now.”
There’s a part of Rastvortseva who wants to rush to Ukraine to be with her family, hiding with her sisters Alice, 10, and Elizabeth, 14, in the empty shelves of her grandmother’s book closet. When Elle is on the phone with her family, she often stifles the sound of her tears.
Elle’s thinking is sometimes thrown for a loop by Elizabeth’s SMS messages:
Explosions can be heard.
They just threw a bomb in our direction.
Elle wants to be with her family, but if something terrible happens, she’ll be the only one left. Her thoughts couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d do.
“I want to make my surname recognized and maintain my heritage,” Rastvortseva stated. “I’ll have to put in a lot of effort if the world is to remember my family and my name as a Ukrainian.”
Rastvortseva said her thoughts is divided into two halves now, about a month into the battle with Russia: What will happen to her family? There’s also golf.
“Everything else is simply there,” she explained.
When they’re not at a tournament, UC Davis coach Anna Temple checks in with Rastvortseva every few of hours. The team makes sure she has someone to go out to dine with, study with, and practice with. They should do everything they can to make her feel connected and cared for.
At practice, they don’t discuss about the conflict unless Rastvortseva brings it up.
“I don’t want to put things in her head that aren’t there,” Temple explained.
Temple, on the other hand, tries to stay up as much as she can with the situation in Ukraine in order to be able to answer Rastvortseva’s inquiries when they occur. Even yet, there’s a sense of helplessness.
At UC Davis’ home event last month, teams decorated their backpacks with ribbons. That was the correct thing to do, yet it wasn’t enough.
Before the start of the Gunrock Invitational, Temple texted Rastvortseva to inquire about her family, and Rastvortseva simply replied, “They’re alive.”
Rastvortseva has trouble concentrating in class. She postponed a speech about travel and respecting different cultures that she was meant to give in speech class.
“How come Russians don’t respect my culture right now?” she wondered.
Rastvortseva was thinking about photographs she’d seen of malnourished animals back home when one of her classmates gave a lecture about pets. Families who were in a hurry to leave or didn’t have enough space were killed, but their pets survived.
“Simple things like that irritate me,” Rastvortseva added, “but I’m getting better.”
Rastvortseva began playing golf when she was seven years old, when her father, Roman, took her to a clinic since he didn’t have a babysitter. She became enamored with the game since she enjoys a good challenge and being outside.
The golf season in Ukraine is brief – late April/May to October – and the nearest golf club is an hour away from her home in Kiev. Rastvortseva used to ride the bus to summer camps when she was younger.
“Even though I say I’ve been playing golf for 10 or 11 years,” she explained, “if I truly calculated it, it’s only four years.”
Rastvortseva, a two-time Ukrainian champion and the country’s No. 1 player, has been a part of the Ukrainian national team since 2015, serving as team captain. When the war broke out, the national team was out of the country, so she went to school in California. She claimed that many of them are now separated from their parents and living in other areas of the world.
“Our Ukrainian coaches are on the front lines with firearms and everything,” she said.
The Aggies are next in action on March 21-22 in the Fresno State Classic, which must feel as far away from the Ukraine conflict as the moon right now.
These days, Temple isn’t as concerned about terrible holes. Instead, she’s pondering how she may assist her students in improving while also preserving the one location in which she finds delight.
“This is golf in the broad view for her, and truly for everyone,” Temple said.
At initially, Rastvortseva’s father remained in Kiev to protect the family’s home and business. His parents live in Zaporizhzhia, in eastern Ukraine, not far from the Russian-targeted nuclear power facility. Her paternal grandparents lived in the basement for two weeks and had just recently made the perilous journey to the west coast. Rastvortseva said it’s not uncommon for Russian forces to attack defenseless individuals fleeing their houses.
The Rastvortseva family in western Ukraine supports new neighbors in every manner they can. Roman transports strangers across the Polish border, while Veronika assists with the collection of medicine, baby formula, and other supplies. The couple has rented flats to migrants who are in need of a home.
“A lot of people, including my parents, help each other,” Rastvortseva remarked. “They literally put their own money on the line.”
And, as her mother explains, they’re quickly running out of money now that their enterprises are gone. Rastvortseva hopes to launch a GoFundMe account to assist individuals have a direct effect on the ground in Ukraine to help lessen that burden. Outside of Kiev, the Rastvortsevas have acquaintances who have set their own furniture on fire to remain warm.
The family plans to send their two youngest daughters, also golfers, to further their education abroad.
Even though she is thousands of miles away, Rastvortseva is proud of people who fight for Ukraine, such as her golf instructors, and those who are committed to giving relief to the most vulnerable, such as her parents.
The beauty of humanity emerges from the atrocities of war.
“This is the truth,” Rastvortseva declared, “that everyone has come together as one.”