Courtesy of Markos Tsegaye

By Alex Karwowski

When Russian forces launched a series of missile attacks on Ukraine, world renowned wrestlers for the Ukraine national team, Zhora Abovian, and his wife Khrystyna, were left with no choice but to flee their home country.

When the war first broke out, Abovian said he and Khrystyna spent time traveling between
various European countries including Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands, before finally
coming to the United States.

With the help of Arsen Julfalakyan, a wrestler on the Armenian national team and friend of
Abovian, the couple connected with Pat Smith and the Minnesota Storm community. The two
now train with the Minnesota Storm in Minneapolis.


“I said I want to go USA, can help me? Arsen said yes of course I help friend,” said Abovian.

The Minnesota Storm rallied together to make sure Abovian and Khrystyna had everything they needed to live comfortably including housing, food, and a form of transportation. One member of the team, Richard Carlson, volunteered to provide them a space to live.

“I was just the person on the team who was the most set up to house them,” Carlson said. “I had extra space where I was living.”

Carlson said the wrestling community is a family and he would hope someone would do the
same for him if he were in their shoes.

“Honestly I feel like I lucked out,” Carlson said. “They’ve become like family to me.”

In addition to providing the couple with a place to stay, Smith reached out to his friend Feargus McTeggart, who coaches high school wrestling and mixed martial arts in California, to see if he would be willing to lend a car to Abovian and Khrystyna. McTaggart graciously agreed to help.

Currently, Abovian and Khrystyna have temporary protected status, but wrestlers with the
Minnesota Storm are doing everything they can to support them in their transition to the U.S.
from finding a job, to saving money for green cards and ultimately U.S. citizenship.

“When we come to Minnesota, we not have friends, we not have any people we know,”
Khrystyna said. “Now we have many friends.”

2008 Storm Olympian Jake Deitchler and Zhora Abovian – Courtesy of Richard Carlson

Both Abovian and Khrystyna have proven to be successful wrestlers for the Ukraine
national team. According to United World Wrestling, Khrystyna placed second in the 2019
U23 Senior European Championships and fifth in the 2021 Senior World Championships.

Abovian on the other hand placed fifth in the 2019 U23 Senior World Championships and eighth in the 2022 Senior European Championships.

Abovian hopes to one day compete for team USA, an accomplishment that would truly resemble the American dream for the Ukrainian wrestler.

“I won’t stop my career,” Abovian said. “I’m young, 26 years, I want to continue.”



If you would like to help and support Zhora and Khrystyna, Richard Carlson has set up a Gofundme link for donations to help with their living expenses and other costs.

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