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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Pembroke Hill’s Marat Usov, water has always been his favorite.

“Swimming is like his church, it’s the place he feels the most relaxed, the most comfortable with and focused. It makes him feel like he’s at home,” Pembroke Hill swimming coach Chad Holmes said.

He’s excelled in the pool. So far, he holds four individual school records and part of three relay records.  

“I’ve seen swimmers for over 25 years of coaching and just to see what he brought to the water was something I haven’t seen from swimmers before,” Holmes said.

But the Raiders have never dealt with what Usov’s seen before, because back in February, his life changed.

“I hear like, somebody call my mom and it was her cousin and she said, ‘War Started,'” Usov said.

A native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, and moving to Kiev, Usov and his family’s lives changed, but they turned to finding a way to get him to safety to continue swimming.

“When it started near us, we heard, like, ‘Boom!’ It wasn’t like really loud, but it was still scary,” Usov said.

On the national team, he went on a long road to get to safety, journeying to Moldova, Romania and Hungary for three months then his coach got a call from a former swimmer he coached, who now lived in Kansas City.

So, after going back to Ukraine to renew his passport and then to Italy to get a VISA, he was headed to safety. 

“I couldn’t believe I was going to U.S. It was my dream and now it’s, like real,” Usov said. “But I couldn’t believe it was real.”

“When we first heard that we could be a possible host family, we were all initially very excited and we thought it would be a great idea to come in and ever since then our excitement has only increased,” Zach Berg, Usov’s teammate, said.

Berg was happy to have a brother and quickly dove into helping Usov assimilate into a new country.

“After about a week or two, I felt like he was already pretty ingrained in American culture, it’s been pretty smooth,” Berg said. “His language, it’s been amazing.”

“I saw a lot of Ukraine flags in Kansas City, and it’s really cool,” Usov said.

“You never know when you start your season as a head coach what you’re going to get,” Holmes said. “Going from just learning about how to swim in America and how to be part of a high school swimming program, it’s been a lot of fun to get to know him and he’s been a great asset to our program.”

He does miss his family. His Mom currently lives in Italy and his father is required by law to stay in Ukraine. They do group calls as much as possible despite the time differences.

He also still follows the news with the ongoing war, but when he’s in the water, his mind is only one place.

“In swimming practice, I can focus only on swimming, and it’s really cool because I have good teammates,” Usov said.

Usov’s enjoyed his teammates, watching other school games and teaching teammates about Ukrainian culture too, but there’s one other thing he’d like to do.

“He wants to know how to drive, so once the season’s over, we’re going to try to teach him,” Berg said.

But most of all, he wants take advantage of this opportunity and make his family proud.

“They’re really proud of my school, how I do in school and my swimming this season,” Usov said.

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