Updated: Aug 1
She is running for her country. How do you train for a marathon in the middle of a war?
On Boston Marathon day, look out for runner number 30639. She’s superhuman.
Many marathoners are, of course. As always, this year’s field will be replete with people who have overcome massive hurdles to take their places at the starting line.
But Marichka Padalko has a story hard to match. She has been training in the midst of a war, running Kyiv’s streets every day — even as she holds down her role as one of the country’s most prominent journalists. The TV anchor has been cataloging the war’s victories and miseries while her husband fights on its front lines. And she has been separated from two of her three children, to keep them safe.
Padalko, 47, and her husband, former journalist, politician, and anti-corruption activist Yehor Soboliev, had always run together, competing in races to give them time alone, starting when their kids were little.
How distant those days seem now. When Russia first attacked Ukraine, Padalko said, “I was like a person watching a horror movie, and I was inside the movie.” She still feels that way, only now more exhausted, and more horrified at the immense losses Russia has inflicted on her country.
Yehor went into battle immediately after the invasion. She has seen him a few times since, most recently in March, for their son’s 16th birthday. In October, a bomb exploded near the family’s apartment, and the danger — as well as the impossibility of remote schooling without electricity — convinced Marichka and Yehor to send their girls, ages 12 and 14, and Marichka’s parents out of the country.
“That was the most difficult decision of this wartime,” Padalko said, though she knows she is luckier than many thousands of Ukrainians, who will never be reunited with those they love.
They were all resettled in Prague with help from Senior US District Judge Mark Wolf, the Boston jurist who has been working for years with Soboliev to combat corruption in Ukraine, and has grown close to the whole family. Wolf helped track down an apartment for the girls and their grandparents, and connected them with a good international school. Some of the judge’s friends are helping with tuition.
The couple’s son, determined to fight the Russians however he can, refuses to leave Ukraine.
“My biggest fear now is that the war will go on for two more years, when he will be 18,” Padalko said. “He is desperate to fight, like his dad, and I will not be able to keep him at home.”
In the chaos of the war’s first days, Padalko couldn’t run. Now she can’t not run.
“It is the only thing I have been doing to get my life back,” she said, calling from Prague, where she was visiting her daughters before flying to Boston on Friday. “I love to daydream when I run, imagining happy days, when my husband comes back.”
In December, Padalko got a message from a Newton woman who runs a charity called Sunflower of Peace, which has been sending high-quality first aid supplies to medics on the front lines: Would Padalko consider running the Boston Marathon to help raise money for the effort?
“We chose her because she is so humble, and beloved, not just because she is a celebrity,” said Katya Malakhova, the Ukrainian immigrant who started the charity. Both Malakhova and Padalko are hoping the journalist’s run will help keep the war in people’s thoughts here, more than a year after the invasion.
“If Ukrainians sometimes feel exhausted, I can understand how people in other countries get tired of hearing about the war that is so far away,” Padalko said. “I so appreciate how the world helps us. I’m running not just to ask for more help, but also as a way to say thank you.”
She has been trained remotely by a Ukrainian middle-distance athlete, an Olympic silver medalist who relocated to Italy. She has gotten past a knee injury, a brutal winter, and Kyiv’s many hills.
“Maybe that means Heartbreak Hill will not be so heartbreaking,” Padalko said.
She’ll crush it.