Abramenko — a top aerialist in freestyle skiing, five-time Olympian and the country’s flag-bearer for the opening ceremony — garnered more attention after the event, when a photograph of him hugging a Russian rival was widely circulated.
On Friday night in Kyiv, Abramenko, 33, was in the parking garage of his apartment building with his wife Alexandra and their two-year-old son Dmitry.
Thousands of people have been attempting to flee the city, leading to large crowds and chaos at Kyiv’s main train station as Ukraine’s military said the Russian army’s primary objective was to encircle the capital.
During a text conversation with The New York Times, Abramenko had someone snap a photograph of his family, sitting on a mattress while bundled against the cold. Dmitry sucked on a pacifier.
It was their seventh night sleeping in the garage, believing it to be safer than their 20th-floor apartment, not far from the city’s major airport.
“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko wrote during the exchange. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defence systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”
By Friday, amid the scramble to abandon Kyiv, Abramenko knew it was time to leave, headed for some unknown future. The family planned to drive Saturday to the western edge of Ukraine, near the borders of Slovakia and Hungary. In the best of times, it could take 10 hours.
“I plan to go to my coach, Enver Ablaev, he lives in Mukachevo, Transcarpathian region,” Abramenko said. “I go by car, I take essential things with me, food, and my Olympic medals.”
Beyond his newly minted silver medal, Abramenko won a gold medal in 2018.
The small world of aerials is trying to provide comfort. Athletes from Switzerland, including former Olympic freestyle skier Andreas Isoz, have been raising funds and planned to go this weekend to Mukachevo — or as close as they could get near the Ukrainian border — to hand off supplies.
Abramenko is not sure what the coming days will bring. He is worried for his parents, who live in Mykolaiv, a port city on the Black Sea where Abramenko was raised. It sits between the occupied city of Kherson and Odessa, expected to be a key target of the Russians.
“Fighting is already underway in Nikolaev,” Abramenko wrote, using an alternate spelling for the city. “My parents are sitting at home and hearing explosions. It is dangerous to leave Nikolaev at the moment, they want to be there. Might be able to leave later.”
Abramenko’s quest is to get to Mukachevo “to think about my next steps.” He is unsure if his wife and son will head across the border as refugees, like more than one million other Ukrainians. He just knows that, like all men his age, he cannot leave Ukraine.
“I don’t know if I’ll go to war or not, I don’t know what process the guys who are being called up are going through,” he wrote. “At the moment, our army is fully coping with the offensives of Russian soldiers and equipment.”
After a couple of hours of sporadic messaging, the replies from Abramenko in Kyiv stopped. It was close to midnight there.