Vova Pluzhnikov not only ran 44 kilometres in one day to raise awareness for the 44 million people affected by the war in Ukraine, but also smashed his fundraising goal of $44,000.
Upon completing his run at Prince George City Hall, to a crowd of waiting supporters, Pluzhnikov said he was left speechless – at that time he’d raised more than $45,000 through the Red Cross.
That number has since jumped to more than $66,000.
“This has been done on such short notice and it is just incredible what it has turned into,” the 26-year-old native of Kharkiv, Ukraine, told the crowd.
“I wanted to thank the City of Prince George and this whole community. You guys are incredible.”
It was only a week prior that Pluzhnikov, a senior guard for the UNBC Timberwolves basketball team, got the idea to run 44 kilometres for every one million Ukrainians now under siege in Russia’s military invasion.
“I have been thinking about all of the things I have taken part of in the last six years in Prince George and this is probably the biggest one – the biggest event – and when I was thinking about doing something for my people I didn’t know that it was going to be like this or that it was going to get that big and thankfully it turned out so well,” said Pluzhnikov.
He said the first time he was asked how much he wanted to raise he immediately thought $44,000 because it was symbolic for Ukraine, but knew it was a pretty high goal.
“I wasn’t expecting to reach that $44,000 dollars but it is incredible.”
Pluzhnikov started his run from city hall at 6 a.m. and headed to the base of Cranbrook Hill at University Way and Foothills Boulevard, before making the return trip to city hall. He started each successive segment from city hall at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 12:30 p. m. and 3 p. m., before ending the whole thing back where he started at city hall where the crowd was waiting to greet him around 4:15 p.m.
Pluzhnikov had run many 10 km training runs but had never done a marathon before.
“I think the second leg and the fifth ones were the hardest ones. My body was trying to adjust during the second one and the fifth one and my brain was telling me we just have enough juice to push through this one, and let’s do it and I know I’m not going to have any energy after that,” said Pluzhnikov, adding he was glad he made it through.
He also wore a meaningful t-shirt on his run, which he got during a basketball tournament in Ukraine back in 2013.
“I have so many memories and this t-shirt just brings out those memories,” he noted.
“I got this t-shirt nine years ago today now – and only today I realized that 2013 was the last year when Ukraine had peace – when Ukrainians had a peaceful life and unfortunately a year later it ended and it turned into an ongoing conflict with the Russian Federation.”
He said he is thankful the world has realized this is a problem and something needs to be done.
Pluzhnikov recently saw videos and photos of the destroyed square in the centre of his city and the university where he used to go, including the basketball gym which was also destroyed.
“I am trying to be positive today, as much as I can, and it is because of you all,” Pluzhnikov told the crowd.
“I have a smile on my face because of you and it has been hard, so thank you so much. Because of you people back home will get the support that they need.”
The UHNBC traditional drummers, members of the local Ukrainian community, as well as Pluzhnikov’s classmates and teammates from UNBC were all in attendance to show their support.
“In the six years that he has been here he has brought the traditions of his home country and he has taught me personally so much about being an international student,” said UNBC’s director of athletics Loralyn Murdoch.
“Unfortunately, some of those monumental places where he has been have been destroyed. The memories that he has will last forever but we and won’t be able to see them. Women, children, families are losing their lives. They are fleeing the country.”
Murdoch stressed that it’s important to keep the support for Ukraine going.
“We are all here today in support of peace. What Vova did today is outstanding. He reached out and he didn’t know what to do and he was feeling helpless. He chose this way to help his country and we all bound together and had his back.”
The money raised through the run will enable the Red Cross to respond to the humanitarian needs as well as preparedness and response efforts in Ukraine.
Those who wish to contribute to the cause can still do so online.
- with files from Ted Clarke