From the battlefield to the chess board

From the battlefield to the chess board



Andrii Zakharov was awakened early to the sound of bombs going off. It was February 24, 2022, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine had started. 1.5 million people lived in Kharkiv, only 20 miles from the Russian border, and they were the first to face the enemy. As bombing increased, the city’s functions collapsed. No electricity, no water and no internet. They were cut off from the world.

When the Russian tanks started to roll past his apartment building, Andrii decided it was time to get out. He got Olha, his wife, (who was suffering with cancer), son Nikita, mother and dog in their car. They took only what they could carry. Sadly, they say, that didn’t include the “good” chess board. They also had to say goodbye to their chess club and to his job as a supervisor at an auto accessory company.

At last they were ready. So they started a knight’s move across Ukraine, going from town to town, staying ahead of the Russian bombings. Sometimes it would take 14 hours or more to go only 100 miles.

When they got to Dnepr, Olha had an operation for her cancer. They’re fortunate to be able to apply for relocation here to Oregon, where Olha has a sister living in Hillsboro. The family’s next move was to Poland to wait for a permit to leave. After a month, they were off and ready to start their new lives here in our community!

Now, Nikita is age 16 and a 10th grader at Glencoe High School. He took internet school classes as they moved from city to city, so his English is excellent. He is very happy to be back in school with other kids. He’s also trying to start a chess club there and hopes to be the best player at his school. He just started playing in chess tournaments and recently won one with a perfect score.

Both father and son play at the Hillsboro Chess Club and drop in, as do others, at my place on Thursday nights to play a few chess games. They bring a high-quality level of chess play to our group and an outstanding background story. Welcome to America, guys!

Why learn chess? Simple: It’s a great mental workout that helps children perform well in the classroom. Chess is a logical game where kids have to plan ahead and adjust to new situations. But most of all, it’s fun!


Larry Ball (Coach Larry) teaches students of all ages at the Steinitz Chess Academy in Beaverton. For more information, email Larry at