SARASOTA, Fla. - Instead of hiding from bombs, helping loved ones escape, or praying for an end to Vladimir Putin's invasion, 14 Ukrainians are spending the week in Sarasota taking on a much different kind of challenge.
"It gives me an opportunity not to think about the war for one hour," said racer Roman Shtyklo. "We have gotten bombarded many times. Thousands of people are dying every day."
Sixty-five teams of 14 paddlers, from 13 countries like Germany and the Philippines, are competing in more than 250 races this week.
Other than the heat, Shtyklo sees why the US and Ukraine are natural allies, and is proud to race in a country with ideals his own is fighting for.
"I can feel the same freedom here in the United States," he stated.
To get here, the team had to apply for special visas and promise to go back.
They're staying with hosts like Pamela Edwards in Apollo Beach, who races dragon boats herself.
"I try to keep their minds on other things and show them what we have in America," she shared. "I try to keep their mind off the nightmare they have to go back to."
Still, they're adept at doing two things at once, winning fourth place out of eleven in an 8,000-meter race on Wednesday.
Using a translator, the team addressed the media, as a team, afterward.
"Everything is very unpredictable. The situation is very tough," said one team member. "We were able to have only five practices in preparation for these races."