Ukrainian crisis hits home for WCU swimmer

Family flees war-torn Donetsk, seeks safety in US; Chesco swim community rallies in support

By Kim Chiomento, Correspondent, The Times


Teammates, friends — and a now a lifeline. West Chester University swimmers Dave McCormick, left, and Bogden “Shark” Grebenyuk formed a tight bond as Ram swimmers. But now, as Grebenyuk’s family was forced to flee war-torn Ukraine, just miles from where a Malaysian airliner was shot down by terrorists, the Chester County swim community is stepping up to offer the family a safe haven.

WEST CHESTER – West Chester University (WCU) swimmer, Dave McCormick, had no idea that his decision to transfer from the University of Maryland to be closer to home would have such a profoundly positive impact on so many.

McCormick, who arrived at WCU in 2012 and is a West Chester native, immediately bonded with his aquatics lane and breast stroke partner – Bogdan “Shark” Grebenyuk; an international swimmer hailing from Donetsk, Ukraine.

Dave’s parents, Chris and Ken McCormick (the latter is the Athletic Director at West Chester Henderson High School), welcomed Bogdan to Sunday dinners and family holiday celebrations with the hopes of easing any “homesickness” this international swimmer might have.  While David and Bogdan’s friendship continued to grow, so did their two families’ with the help of social media and online translation services.  Both the McCormicks and Grebenyuks were in regular communication with each other.  Ken McCormick, David’s dad, fondly says, “Bogdan is just a great kid. He’s everything we hope our three sons are—polite, kind and a genuine young man…and he has become family.”

According to the McCormicks, Bogdan is also a terrific role model, “He’s regimented with his studies and training,” Ken said. “Incredibly, just three years ago he didn’t speak any English and today he is completely fluent.”

In addition to his discipline, Bogdan is a contributing member of the WCU community as a youth aquatics instructor.  In the summer, he trains at the Roslyn Swim Club with Golden Ram Aquatics where he takes time to encourage younger swimmers and offer them assistance.

This February, The McCormicks started having serious concerns about the Grebenyuk family as Donetsk was becoming increasingly drawn into the growing civil war.  Initial reports from the Grebenyuks indicated that they were safe, but as events began to unfold, the violence continued to get much closer to home and their situation quickly deteriorated.  Bogdan, after learning about the bombing of the Donetsk airport in his home town, approached the McCormicks about how to get his parents out of the Ukraine.

A poignant perspective is Malaysian Air flight MH17 was just recently shot down approximately 20 miles from where the Grebenyuks reside.

Ken McCormick commented, “As Americans we hear of conflicts like those in the Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, Palestine & Israel…and we may experience higher gas or food prices, see horrific photos on TV but when it hits home like this has, it becomes extremely powerful and emotional.”

After seeking legal counsel, the McCormicks learned that Bogdan’s parents could travel to the United States based on the visas they held to come see their son at WCU.

For the Grebenyuks, the defining moment came when Bogdan’s father, a renowned Ukrainian orthopedic surgeon, became targeted by terrorists.  Dr. Grebenyuk was shot at several times and had the terrifying experience of participating in his own staged mock execution, being sent a “message” by the terrorists.  He was placed on his knees, bound, and had shots fired in close proximity to his head, all while his wife knelt at his side.  Miraculously, through his pleas and his captors’ review of his in-hand papers that included his medical credentials; he was able to convince the terrorists that he was a physician and had operated on many victims of the civil war, including the terrorists’ comrades.

The Grebenyuks fled the Ukraine, leaving with just a few suitcases and selling their family car on the way to the airport for cash. On Tuesday, July 8, The Grebenyuks arrived in West Chester and are currently in the process of seeking political asylum in the United States, a complicated and expensive process that will take some time.  For now, they are living in Bogdan’s college apartment but will need to leave by mid-August. They are currently seeking assistance in the following areas:

• A place to stay in the West Chester area (short term lease where pets are permitted.)
• Assistance in learning English
• The essential means for living on one’s own –food, clothing, furniture and cash.

The Chester County swim community, with the assistance of the McCormick family, is helping spread to the word on this family’s needs and incredible story.  A charitable fund has been established in their name.  For more information, visit the Facebook PageHave a Heart for Shark.”  If you wish to make a financial contribution, please write a check made payable to the Grebenyuk Family Fund.  Gift cards for clothes and groceries are also welcomed.

Your donations may be sent to:

The Grebenyuk Family Fund

PO Box 800

West Chester, PA 19381

Or you can donate directly on line, via this link:

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