They have arrived in Dhaka from Poland to take part in the third Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Dhaka Marathon 2023 on Friday morning. The athletes will run on Dhaka’s 300 feet road up to the Kanchan bridge before heading back.

Around 2200 athletes from home and abroad are taking part this year– a record in the competition history which is organised by Bangladesh Army with the help of Bangladesh Athletics Federation (BAF). This year, more than 80 athletes from overseas are taking part.

On Thursday, the organisers held a press conference at a hotel in the capital and the hall was packed with athletes from India, Pakistan, Nepal and from various African nations along with many Bangladeshi athletes.

One of the known faces out of the locals was Shamsunnahar Chumki, Bangladesh’s former fastest woman. Shamsunnahar said, she will compete in the half-marathon (21 kilimetres). Many locals will compete in the full marathon.

Athletes from 14 countries, including Bangladesh will compete in the marathon. But out of all of them, Maryna and Mykola stand out.

26-year-old Maryna loves running since she was a kid. In 2021, she became the champion in the national women’s marathon in Ukraine. She has competed in marathons in countries like Germany, Italy and Austria among many. She also competed in last year’s European Championship held in Munich.

28-year-old Mykola has also competed in marathons outside of Ukraine. This is Maryna and Mykola’s  first visit to Bangladesh. But both of them only have thoughts of Ukraine on their minds.

Maryna said, “After the Russian attack in Ukraine, we couldn’t return to Ukraine from Kyrgyzstan. We went to Poland. That’s where we currently live. But we no longer feel like living abroad. Our parents, grandparents are back in home. We haven’t seen them for a year. Our hearts ache for them all the time. But the airspace in Ukraine is closed. So, we can’t go back home.”

Marina’s home is in Ukraine’s Kharkiv city. Mykola is from Dnipro. The Russian forces have attacked both cities. But both their families have not been affected by the attack and for that, Maryna considers herself and Mykola extremely lucky.

“Our homes are in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. Even two days back, bombs were dropped at the region, there were rocket attacks. Luckily, our homes are five-six kilometres away from the main city. There hasn’t been any firing or bombing there so far.”

However, they are always in fear of one such attacks happening near their homes. Mykola said, “In this situation, you never know what will happen next. I can’t sleep well at night. I’m always surfing the internet to keep note of what’s happening in the city. Our days pass in a lot a mental stress. I don’t know when we will be free from all of this.”

As Mykola said this, a look of despair was visible on both their faces. They said, people in many parts of Ukraine are without electricity for more than 12 hours a day. Rocket attacks are happening every now and then. The people are scared, but there is nothing they can do.

Both of them are set to end their brief stay in Dhaka on Friday night and return to Poland. Maryna said with a smile, “The organisers of the Bangabandhu Marathon have booked our tickets like that.”

They want to take home the hefty prize money from Dhaka. Maryna and Mykola don’t have a job in Poland. Competing in marathons is their main source of income.

Bangabandhu Marathon has total prize money of around Tk 30 million. In the 42.95 kilometre full marathon event, the first prize for athletes from SAFF region is Tk 500,000. For Bangladeshi athletes the prize money for the first place is the same. For athletes outside of SAFF, the prize money is $15,000.

“We want to perform well at the Dhaka marathon and return with the prize money. We want to win,” Maryna hoped.

However, both of them agreed that the day they return to their homeland is the day they will truly feel like champions.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy