I’ll have a stab! The brave teen swordsman planning to lead Ukraine


 “Shavua Tov! Ma shlomcha?" says the smiling young man on my doorstep as he steps inside carrying a babka he has bought for me in a Golders Green shop.

Coming from a combat enthusiast, it was a disarming introduction. At just 17, Andrii Cherkashyn is not only one of Ukraine’s top sword-fighters – he has his sights set on one of the most terrifying jobs in the world: president of Ukraine.

Cherkashyn, who last week flew to Naples to fence for Ukraine in the junior European championships, has refugee status in the UK and is studying for his A-levels in further maths and economics at King Alfred School in Golders Green.

He told the JC he started fencing in his early teens, having decided against pursuing a career as a professional footballer for Dynamo Kyiv – his home city’s top club – because there was “too much competition”.

Now, though, he has loftier ambitions. As well as becoming an Olympic fencing champion, he says he intends to one day step into Volodymyr Zelensky’s shoes.

The fame an Olympic gold would bring, he says, would “help my political career” and he already has a clear vision for what he could do as leader of Ukraine. “I want to help solve my country’s economic problems,” he says. “We have amazing potential.”

Does the idea of becoming Putin’s No1 target not terrify him? He appears unperturbed by the prospect, pointing out that the Ukrainian constitution prevents him becoming president until he’s 35 and by the time he reaches this age he hopes his country will long have liberated itself from Putin’s war.

His chosen sport is a symbol of his country’s battle, he says. “To me, fencing for Ukraine signifies our nation’s enduring spirit, our ongoing struggle, and it shows the vibrant determination of our youth to fight for our country’s independence every day.

”I am proud to fence and represent Ukraine in these challenging times, wielding my flag with honour. I especially am pleased that I take part in competitions where Russian fencers are deprived of their symbols,” he says.

He is living in accommodation provided by his south Hampstead-based fencing coach, who gives him lessons for free. The coach also set him up with a scholarship at fee-paying King Alfred. Cherkashyn, who won fencing bronze at European Championship in 2023, says he is using his time at school to study hard and raise funds for Ukraine and increase awareness of his nation’s plight.

This has involved persuading Soho restaurant Zima, which is owned by a Russian dissident, to send Ukrainian-style meals to the King Alfred, which pupils snapped up within two hours, raising £500 for a Ukrainian charity. He plans more such culinary fundraising.

As a Ukrainian refugee, Cherkashyn has applied to US and British universities and already has an offer for a partial scholarship from an American college.

He was 15 and asleep at home in Kyiv on 24 February, 2022 when the war began. “I was supposed to fly that day from an airport 20 minutes from our house to Serbia for a fencing competition,” he recalls.

“But we heard huge explosions coming from the airport at 4.30am. A family friend in the military phoned and urgently advised us to get out and travel to the west of Ukraine. That’s what we did.”

One reason for their hasty departure from Kyiv was his Jewish father’s job. He was deputy head of Teva Pharmaceuticals in Ukraine, an Israeli-owned company.  Anyone of importance connected with Jews or Israel was advised by Ukraine’s security services that Russian special agents planned to kill Jewish Ukrainians or Israelis, and then blame Ukraine’s “Nazi” regime.

Cherkashyn’s father returned to Kyiv to continue running Teva after Russian forces were pushed back from the outskirts in April 2022. Teva now employs 1,000 people in Ukraine and is one of several Israeli companies bolstering the war-torn country’s economy.

Cherkashyn soon realised he too would need to leave Ukraine to pursue his fencing career. He took up an offer of accommodation in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, from a Ukrainian Jewish family.  “I had the happiest, best five months of my life there, being looked after, and also training with Israelis at a fencing club. I was starting in a way a new life,” says Cherkashyn. “Except of course, I was worrying about my family back in Ukraine. It’s important to me not to forget what is happening in Ukraine. I should really appreciate what I have now.”

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