Sister city couples from Ukraine will compete in Flying Pig Marathon events for the first time ever

CINCINNATI -- The trip took 25 hours by train and plane, but for the first time in Flying Pig History there will be Ukrainian entrants in the 10K, half-marathon and marathon.

Meet Olga and Sergiy Fedchenko, Olena and Serhii Artemenko and Vadym and Yuliya Kovalenko, three married couples who made the journey here through the Cincinnati Kharkiv Sister City Partnership. The 27-year volunteer organization fosters cultural, professional and educational exchanges between the two cities.

“We are grateful for the help of the Sister Cities because we wanted to be the first group from Kharkiv to participate in the Cincinnati marathon. It’s important for me, and our city, too,” said Olga Fedchenko, 34, who works with her husband at a Ukrainian sports club.

She’ll run the Pig’s 10K on Saturday, just one week after completing the same event in the Kharkiv International Marathon. Sergiy Fedchenko will compete Sunday in the Pig’s half-marathon.

The group is seeing a lot of Cincinnati during a brief stay that ends Monday and continues in New York. The Ukrainians have visited the Cincinnati Zoo and a running club, shopped, and spent time with their host families. They’ll also check out Cincinnati Fitness Boxing on Spring Grove Avenue, the Carew Tower Observation Deck and the Flying Pig’s P&G Health and Fitness Expo.

Mariemont resident Stan Bahler and his wife, Bobbie, are among the host families. They learned about the exchange program when their daughter went to the Ukraine through the Peace Corps, and they’ve hosted 12 to 15 Ukrainian guests during the last 15 years.

This time the Bahlers are hosting the Artemenkos. Although the latter couple speaks little English, the group finds ways to communicate, even if that means relying on Internet searches to unlock language barriers.

“We’re both sitting there with our iPhones, Googling,” Mr. Bahler said, laughing.

He described his guests as “delightful” and said they seem to be having a good time.

“We just want them to see what it’s like to be in a typical Cincinnati home. See the town, learn a little more about it,” Mr. Bahler said. “It’s always fun to watch their expressions when they see things the first time. They’ve been very appreciative of everything, and we just enjoy having young people like this.”

Vadym Kovalenko visited Cincinnati three years ago and also has been to Los Angeles and New York. The 31-year-old Kharkiv hotel manager said he enjoys the Queen City.

“Cincinnati is a very beautiful city. It has very polite people and very clean streets. Beautiful houses, beautiful buildings. It’s great,” Kovalenko said.

On Sunday he’ll tackle the Pig’s 26.2-mile run -- his fourth marathon -- while Yuliya spectates and cheers. His last marathon was the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in October.

Susan Neaman, the Cincinnati Kharkiv Sister City Partnership’s vice president for programs, said this particular group is self-funded, meaning they paid their own airfare and are taking care of some meals. They’re also benefiting from accommodations and a generous helping of Cincinnati fare, including a big group picnic with their host families.

The Ukrainians are among the citizens of 20 countries who will participate in this weekend’s Pig events. The athletic component is part of a larger cultural endeavor designed to create lasting memories for the Sister City visitors.

“I think for those who have not been to the U.S., and a few have not, it is definitely a cultural experience,” Neaman said. “I think even for those who have come before… you’re going to have a different cultural experience than the one before. And the other thing is that it’s a cultural experience both ways. That’s really so important.”

The door is open to the Ukraine for local residents who want to experience that culture. And who knows? Maybe prospective guests will run the Kharkiv International Marathon next April.

“We have an invitation for Cincinnati citizens,” Olga Fedchenko said. “Maybe anyone who would like to go to Kharkiv… we would like to host.”

Visit info@cincy-kharkiv.org for more information about the Sister City Partnership.

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