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Young Ukrainian gymnast safe in Fort Worth after fleeing war with mother; local gym raising funds to help him compete in USA

Nikita Derevianko, 11, escaped from Kyiv at the end of March by train with his mother. He was on track to compete at a high level in Ukraine before the war began.

FORT WORTH, Texas — When 11-year-old Nikita Derevianko arrived in Texas, his mother said the young boy would constantly walk outside and look into the sky. 

The reason? Ensure that no Russians were here. 

Nikita and his mother, Yevheniia, escaped war-torn Ukraine on March 23 and now live in Fort Worth. The Sokol there is working to prepare the two for the next chapter of their lives by raising money for Nikita to compete in the USA Gymnastics circuit.

The organization is also trying to raise money for the two to obtain an immigration attorney to live in the United States permanently. 

"All the people that we meet here are trying to help us and always say something to us about Ukraine. We are very thankful for everybody," Yevheniia Derevianko said. 

Credit: Josh Stephen
Nikita and his mother talk during a gymnastics break.

The pair lived in Kyiv and fled the city by train in the middle of the night after Russia launched an all-out assault on the country. 

Their 14-hour ride from Kyiv to Lviv was not an easy one. It was met with echoes of war and death in the distance that came along for the ride. 

"All these planes, rockets, and bombs were horrible sounds," Derevianko said.

"It was scary. There were no lights on the train, and all the windows were closed. They asked people to lie down because the Russians could shoot us. I was afraid for him, not myself because I had to protect him." 

Derevianko has a childhood friend from Ukraine who is now an American in Fort Worth. She told Derevianko that if she could get to Poland, her husband would escort them to America. 

Once they arrived in Poland, the group made it to Finland and then traveled to Spain. From Spain, they flew to Mexico and were accepted into the U.S. under a temporary humanitarian protected status. 

Even with her mother and brother still in Kyiv, Derevianko plans to stay in America with her son and start over. 

She's now living with her Ukranian childhood friend in Fort Worth with Nikita.

The two are slowly getting back to normal. For Nikita, doing gymnastics at the Sokol helps with that process. 

In Ukraine, he trained six days a week for four hours a day. His mother says he was on track, for his age, to compete at a high level in the country. 

"He's very good, and our coaches there thought so," Derevianko said. "He doesn't love school so much--but he loves gymnastics." 

Credit: Josh Stephen
Nikita and his mother speak with WFAA.

Derevianko doesn't have a car, so the Sokol community and friends help get her and Nikita to the Sokol for training when they can. 

Officials and coaches at the Sokol agreed and told WFAA they couldn't provide a higher level of training for Nikita. They started a GoFundMe to send him to gymnastics camps, and hopefully, that will lead to him competing nationally. 

The fundraiser is also to help with any expenses Derevianko and Nikita may need to help them stay in the U.S. permanently as they work towards citizenship.

Nikita doesn't speak English very well, but through his mother, he told WFAA it would be a dream of his to compete in gymnastics in the U.S. 

Despite leaving most of their possessions behind, it's one thing that survived: a dream that can come true with help. 

"Everybody here is amazing people," Derevianko said. "This is his big wish."

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