How chess is helping a Ukrainian player to cope with the war

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
5/26/2022 – At the recently held Malakoff Open near Paris, Woman International Master Anastasiya Rakhmangulova scored 6.5 points in nine rounds to finish in 11th place. While her performance wasn’t extraordinary, the mere participation of the 27-year-old Ukrainian at the annual chess tournament was. She was in Kyiv when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. | Photo: Anastasiya Rakhmangulova at the Cappelle-la-Grande tournament 2022

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Rakhmangulova couldn’t believe that her childhood dread of war had become a reality when she woke to the sounds of missiles and air raid sirens on February 24. "It was terrifying. I was very scared. I couldn't understand how this could happen," she said. However, as reality hit her, she packed her essentials that consisted of a laptop, a few clothes and a couple of milk cans.

The bomb shelter

A few belongings left

"My mother and I left our apartment for the bomb shelter. After staying there for a week, we decided it was time to get out of Ukraine. I thought it was either now or never. The longer we stayed, the more the situation could become dangerous," she said.

While moving to the Czech Republic guaranteed safety, adapting to this sudden change wasn’t easy. "I was in a state of desperation. It was impossible for me to do anything. It took me four days to realise that I was safe." A week or so after arriving in the Czech Republic, Rakhmangulova made a conscious decision to indulge in activities that would distract her from reading the war related news all the time. She started by providing free online chess lessons to children who were in Ukraine. She also launched a fundraiser to help her compatriots who were suffering because of the war. So far, she has raised 5000 euros. 

It was only a month later that she started to focus again on chess. "I was happy to resume training. Until then, it was really difficult to think about anything else than the war. I would read the news all the time. I am so glad I have chess in my life. It has helped me to cope with the situation," she said. 

Not long after, Rakhmangulova played a chess tournament in the Czech Republic before participating in the nine-day event in the Paris suburb of Malakoff. It was her third visit to the French capital. While her first trip in 2016 was about "living her dream of visiting the Eiffel tower," the second stop was after playing at the Cappelle-la-Grande tournament from February 12 to February 18. "I visited my favourite places in Paris before returning to Kyiv two days before the war started," she said.

Enjoying Paris as a tourist in February 2022: Anastasiya Rakhmangulova in front of the Louvre

Rakhmangulova intends to play in more tournaments to not only pursue her objective of becoming a Woman Grandmaster but also to share information with her co-participants about the situation in Ukraine.  

While Rakhmangulova and her mother are based in the Czech Republic, her father managed to move to Ireland after fleeing the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, which continues to be pounded by Russian forces. Her brother still lives in western Ukraine.

Rakhmangulova is currently preparing for a chess tournament in Norway that starts at the beginning of June as part of her aim to gain WGM norms. "After this tournament, we are considering going back to Ukraine without really knowing how it will be possible to start again," she said. Her biggest fear is that she will have to "relive the terrifying experience of missile strikes and air raid sirens." 

"The sound of sirens stayed in my mind for a long time. For a month, I had a recurring nightmare of having to evacuate my apartment" 

Rakhmangulova said that even though some people were now returning to Kyiv, the possibility of missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital could not be ruled out. "I am scared of getting affected by these fears again. But at the same time, I really miss Kyiv and my apartment a lot. It’s very difficult for me to make the right decision" she said.

Results of the Malakoff Open


Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.