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Largely on the initiative of International Master Peter Marusenko, Dominanta, a school in Kiev, has been coming to Britain for a chess playing holiday over the last five or six years and Wales has been returning the visit on an “exchange” basis. Last September the Ukrainian party stayed in Swansea, mostly in the home of the Evans family, and we returned the visit in the week before Easter. Our party consisted of six children and five adults. We had previously visited Kiev in 2008, along with a party from England. I was the only survivor from that occasion. We slept in a hostel, very like our university student accommodation and we ate in the school.
The welcome in Kiev was overwhelming. We were showered with gifts and very much made to feel at home. The school is privileged in many ways and is obviously not a standard state school. It specialises in foreign languages and has twelve English teachers with a school population of about 800. (They start learning English in lower Junior School!) However, because The Ukraine has been dominated by Russia for so long and because they have great difficulty in obtaining visas to leave the country, most of them have never been to Britain and they never meet native English speakers. They were thus desperate to talk to us and at least two of them accompanied us on each of our trips about the city. They also arranged for us to talk to two groups of pupils, broadly one primary and one secondary. Their language skills were impressive.
The hosts took us on a guided tour of the historical centre of the city and on another day we visited a local monastery. As well as working monks and much impressive ecclesiastical decoration, this featured underground catacombs with a thousand year old bodies, a museum of fabulous treasures, many of them dug out of ancient long barrows and a modern museum of miniatures. Examples of the latter were a chess board and pieces resting on the top of a pin and a flea shod with shoes of gold. We also went on a shopping expedition and all members of our party thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
As to the chess, there were two events, a seven round quick play individual tournament, involving children from across Kiev and a double round match against the Dominanta School pupils. In the individual event the top three places went to Ukrainian players, with scores respectively of six, five and four and a half points. However four of our players, Kristian, Eva, Rhys and Owen finished joint fourth, with four points and Jonathan and Joshua scored three each. There were 19 competitors. At least one Ukrainian, and possibly more, attended a school specialising in chess. We lost the match against Dominanta by four and a half to seven and a half points. The two teams were evenly matched and many tense battles ensued. The score could easily have been six each or even marginally in our favour. The individual scores out of two, in board order, were: Jonathan Bold 0, Kristian Prosser 1.5, Rhys Bennett 1, Eva Los 1, Owen Bennett 1, Joshua McKenna 0.
There remains the question of hosting the Ukrainian party when they visit us next. Last September the burden fell heavily on two families and we cannot ask them to do that again. Next time I would hope to centre the visit in Cardiff, rather than in Swansea, and I appeal to any family of a junior chess player with a spare bed to accommodate a pupil from Kiev, age and sex unspecified and unknown until almost the last minute. (This is because of the difficulty in obtaining visas, mentioned above. Also, they did not bring any girls last year and are unlikely to do so next time.) The chess player concerned would obviously be invited to make the return trip to Kiev.
Director of Junior Chess.