New York Times, August 2022
The Ukrainian gymnastics star leaped and pirouetted across the floor of a sports hall in northern Italy to the rhythm of a popular Ukrainian war song, as dozens of young Italian girls in chignons watched in awe. Evelina Toffoletti, a gymnastics coach who had accompanied her students to the master class, a fundraiser for Ukraine, joined the thunderous applause. “We did not know there was this technical primacy in Ukrainian gymnastics,” she said. “Now we see it.” She added, “They are here.”
Italy had the largest Ukrainian community in Western Europe even before the war, but the Russian invasion ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin, and the fierce Ukrainian resistance have turned the spotlight on the country and led to the emergence of a stronger Ukrainian expatriate community and a national identity that had been invisible to many. “Our people were rediscovered,” said Olena Samoylenko, the organizer of the gymnastics master class, who was born in Ukraine but has lived in Italy for the past 22 years.
The war has brought global attention to Ukraine’s often little-known history, politics, culture and even pop music, but in Italy, many Ukrainians said the war also changed their relationship to their roots, and sometimes, to the country they live in.