FALMOUTH — About a month ago, Maryna Bilonozhko was hiding in an air-raid shelter as the city of kyiv was attacked by Russian invaders.
Now, thanks to the kindness of a Cape Town tennis coach, Bilonozhko is about to take his 16-year-old son Timur Alalin, an accomplished golfer, to the west coast where he will join the Northern California Junior Golf Association.
Kevin Pease, who runs a Falmouth tennis school.
When Bilonozhko was taking refuge in kyiv, she received an email from Pease. He had contacted several tennis professionals in Ukraine, including Bilonozhko, hoping to help in some way.
“I’m a tennis professional, and I consider it a kind of brotherhood across the world, and anybody who’s a world tennis coach or an ITF coach, you know, we’re kindred spirits. I just reach out, it started like that,” Pease said.
Athletes as kindred spirits
Pease urged Bilonozhko to travel to the United States as she has an international visa. Bilonozhko hadn’t thought of leaving kyiv, where his whole life is centered.
While she was taking refuge, her son was in Turkey, where he was taking part in a golf tournament. Alalin is one of the best golfers in Ukraine. His mother is a former professional tennis player and current tennis coach.
Pease’s encouragement spurred Bilonozhko on a long and difficult journey, one that would take her and her son away from a war-torn country and to Cape Cod, where they would hopefully have the chance to take a new start.
From Turkey, Alalin traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, where he stayed with a friend. Bilonozhko traveled by train to meet his son. Once they met, they traveled together to Bucharest. Rail travel was scary in those days because trains were overcrowded and destinations were constantly changing, Alalin told the Cape Cod Times.
On Facebook, Bilonozhko found an American who was donating his air miles to Ukrainians in need.
The couple flew from Bucharest to Frankfurt, Germany, then to Dulles International Airport outside of DC and finally to Logan International in Boston, where Pease picked them up and brought them to Cape Town.
Leap of Faith on Cape Cod
Pease did not know his guests, but all were ready to take a leap of faith: Pease helping strangers out of a difficult situation, and Alalin and Bilonozhko trusting a stranger from another country.
“I know if I was in this situation, I hope someone would contact me and say ‘hey, how are you? Do you need any help?’ “, said Pease.
Alalin was warmly welcomed by Cape Codders.
“Everything is fine. Very good people, very nice, always smiling. Everyone is happy, everyone is saying ‘hi’ to you. It’s like I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.
Since their arrival, Alalin and her mother have received gift cards for groceries and clothes. Some residents even took Alalin to play golf and offered him equipment.
“All of your gifts are real help and support, and a show of care for us,” Bilonozhko wrote in a text message to The Times.
Where to golf?
Hoping to find a place to golf, Alalin wrote to the 50 Best Golf Clubs in the United States.
David Leadbetter, a top golf instructor, put Alalin in touch with Mike Moreland, President of the Northern California Junior Golf Association. Moreland will house Alalin and his mother and have Alalin participate in the association’s golf tournaments. Bilonozhko could try to find work as a tennis coach in California.
They intended to leave Cape Town on Monday.
Mom and her son are ready for what’s next.
“The history of war is another story,” writes Bilonozhko. “Our trip lasted 2 weeks, 3 days… and here we are, after a long adventure with a few small bags and a minimum of money, we are ready to start our life from scratch, from the beginning. But we are athletes, we will definitely get through this.