Ukraine's army of chess players take up guns to checkmate Putin's forces

GM Oleksander Sulypa, captain of Ukrainian national men's chess team. Photo: Facebook/ @oleksandersulypa

Bobby Fischer believed every game of chess was a war over the board. The American famously went to war with Russia and triumphed, beating one of its finest grandmasters, Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship in 1972.

Fifty years later, a battery of Ukrainian chess players is waging a war. Only, their war is more real. They, too, are confronted by Russians, though just not over the board.

Ukraine's chess players are resisting Vladimir Putin's ongoing invasion of their nation. Some have taken up arms in defence of their motherland.

Grandmaster and captain of the Ukrainian national team, Oleksander Sulypa, is waiting behind a trench in the western city of Lviv, holding a rifle to face the Russian army.

"I am defending my land from enemies and "peacekeepers". The truth will win!" he posted a week ago.

GM Georgy Timoshenko
GM Georgy Timoshenko. Photo: Facebook/ @juliatimoshenko

A day later, another GM Georgy Timoshenko carried a rifle into the battle.

 "Yura (Georgy) went to defend the capital (Kyiv) with guns in his hands," wrote his partner Julia.

At 56, Timoshenko is probably the oldest professional chess player to get into this battlefield.

Aspiring Indian players might remember him as an unassuming grandfatherly coach, who led chess camps in Odisha, Gujarat and several other Indian cities, a few years ago.

GM Natalia Zhukova
GM Natalia Zhukova with Ukrainian fighters in Odessa. Photo: Facebook/ @nataliazhukova

Meanwhile, former European champion, Natalia Zhukova, is proudly assisting the southeastern city of Odessa, where she is now a member of the city council.

"From morning to evening, together with like-minded people, we're looking for all necessary things, medicines, etc," Zhukova wrote on Facebook.

GM Pavel Eljanov reported that GM Igor Kovalenko has been "actively volunteering in Kyiv and helping his brothers who took up arms".

An unshaven and gloomy Kovalenko was last heard appealing for support in his YouTube channel.

Eljanov, currently the second-best active player in Ukraine, posted on Facebook that his family was in Khrakiv, an eastern city nearer to Russia that has been ravaged in the onslaught.

He is reportedly safe, somewhere.

Teenage sensation Kirill Shevchenko, originally from Kyiv, is also, hopefully, not in danger.

He has been busy on social media informing the world about the tragic situation prevailing in his country.

Former world champion Anna Muzychuk has been reaching out to the chess community, particularly her colleagues in Russia and Belarus, asking them to explain their position.

The Ukrainian Chess Federation has been documenting the war from the point of view of its members. The other day it reported a war casualty.

"On March 2, 2022, after severe injuries from the Russian occupiers, FIDE referee and children's coach Oleksiy Valentynovych Druzhynets died (Tokmak, Zaporizhia Oblast, January 3, 1975 - March 2, 2022)," the federation said.

Almost every Ukrainian player, barring one, has taken up cudgels against the Russian attacks, one way or the other.

The odd one, Super GM Sergey Karjakin has been isolated, not only by the players of Ukraine but by the peace-loving international chess community at large.

What did you write? What do you stand for? asked a shocked Zhukova, after Karjakin rallied behind Vladimir Putin.

Karjakin, former World No.4, had written: "I express to you, our Commander-in-Chief, my full support in the interests of Russia, our multinational Russian people, elimination of threats and establishment of peace!"

Ukraine is the land where Karjakin was born, learned to play chess and his relatives still live.

After representing his country of birth throughout his teenage years, Karjakin, now 32, moved to Russia.

He has since become a staunch advocate of Putin.

While Karjakin awaits a FIDE ethics committee verdict, the Ukrainian chess players remain on the battlefront.

Because, like former World Champion Garry Kasparov said, condemning the Russian invasion: "This isn't chess. There's no draw, no stalemate."

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