The way to stop being weak

The people living in the Kreminna raion of the Luhansk oblast teamed up to give 12-year-old Liosha Kotliar the possibility to go to the Chess World Championship in Brazil

The case of the 12-year-old chess player Oleksii Kot­liar from the pro­vin­cial town of Kreminna in Lu­hansk oblast seems to be uni­que. He ma­na­ged to raise 44,000 hryv­nias to participate in the World Chess Cham­pion­ship that will be held in Brazil at the end of November.


Liosha Kotliar is an experienced chess player; he started playing chess when he was three and a half years old. “My grandpa put me at the chess board when I was three and a half years old. I started regularly playing when I was five or six,” the young chess player tells. His mom Liubov Kotliar shared the secrets of education: “Liosha was five and he played football, danced and played chess. Later he decided that he is more interested in playing chess. The dad told him at the very beginning: ‘If you decided to play chess you should do it seriously,’ and taught him from the very beginning and made him disciplined.” Today Kotliar has over 30 awards and dozens of diplomas. Recently 12-year-old Kot­liar won the adult tournament in Severodonetsk. It is interesting that when he was eight he received the first grade and when he was ten he became the candidate master.

When Liosha plays chess one can see that his eyes light up and can say much more than his modest words: “Previously I played chess as a hobby and now I started playing more professionally. I like it because, unlike playing cards where everything depends on the chance, in the chess the know­led­ge and skillfulness decide everything. I like combinations.”

However, the main Kot­liar’s achievement for now is the second place in the Ukrai­nian chess championship in the age category up to 12 years old. The victory in this championship means that he has to reach the international level and make the new tops. The Ukrainian Chess Federation helps its sportsmen, however, just like any other organization it cannot do it in full. That is why when Kotliar had a chance to go to the World Championship his parents found themselves in quite a serious trouble since a lot of mo­ney was needed to go to Brazil. “When Aliosha was little we read a book by Aleksandr Kotov Aliokhin. The Chess Heritage. Then he said: ‘I want to become a champion.’ Since then we have been maintaining the le­vel. Now it is impossible to make him quit playing chess. The beauty of this game opens up when one finds out more and more about it,” Liosha’s father Roman Kotliar says.

Last September Kotliars’ family got the idea to involve the general public and tell that there is a talented boy who can present Ukraine at the international level but needs help. Roman and Liubov Kotliar, the parents of the young chess player opened the banking accounts and surprisingly started receiving the money from various companies, organizations and individuals. So, absolutely unknown people helped the 12-year-old boy to make his dream come true. The inhabitants of the Kreminna raion managed to prove that the proverb “it is no concern of mine…” is a common stereotype about the Ukrainians they managed to break.


“There are a lot of talented children in Ukraine, Liosha is not the one; however, they reach a certain level when a lot of expenses are needed to move ahead. This is the problem. Four to five thousand hryvnias are needed to go to a tournament to Crimea; in general, all the good tournaments require the fees. Plus the coaches. Every­one is looking for a coach they can afford,” Roman Kot­liar shares the problems of ma­ny Ukrai-nian sportsmen.

The club “Start” in Kre­minna where Liosha Kotliar studies has the same problems. A small room allocated by the district authorities, old chess boards and benches. Though the coach Oleksii Starytsky assures that the district authorities help the club, one feels that the sportsmen periodically have hard times. The coach is 72 and he has been heading the group over the last 17 years. Now there are about 30 young chess players there. Despite the poverty, Starytsky likes the chess and teaches his pupils not to only play but take the chess philosophically: “Why does the board of 64 squares attract millions of people? The chess teach children to be thorough. They teach them thinking over each step, thinking logically and acting reasonably. There are no trifles in chess and there must not be trifles in life. The chess and the life are closely connected. If one makes a mistake in life it will give a negative result. The chess teach that if one makes an unreasonable move it may cost the whole game.”

Starytsky has been teaching Liosha Kotliar for five years now. His methodology implies regular tournaments, playing with one’s eyes closed when pupils develop not only their logic but also creating thinking and memory. By the way, Liosha Kotliar is the captain of the Kreminna chess team. “I appreciate that Oleksii is not arrogant but very committed and firm. Having such character at his age is very good. Of course, he has to improve his skills since it is impossible to know everything being 12-year-old. I tell him: it is very important to never agree to draw the game, to fight until the last drop of blood. Chess, just like any other sports requires being a fighter. I am very happy ho have such a ta­­lented and gifted pupil at my age, I can see that my work is not vain,” the coach shared his ideas about his pupil.

Oleksii Starytsky is one of those who organized the drive to raise funds for Liosha Kot­liar: he wrote an article to the local newspaper and addressed the general public. It is clear that the coach supports his pupil with all his heart. “When we asked for help a lot of people took up the call: the district state administration, the district library, directors of companies and businesspeople. Nobody made them do it; they did it on their own initiative. People have to take the problems of their region to heart and be proud of it. All the patriots of their city, district, village, oblast, and, finally, Ukraine can always find time and mo­ney to do a good deed. We often lack money for good deeds,” Starytsky said.

One of the main Liosha Kotliar’s sponsors is the former pupil of the Kreminna chess club Serhii Pyrozhnykov. In 1992-97 he studied at this club and was one of the best: he was the champion of the town and participated in the competitions. However, he could not make his dreams come true because of the same problem: lack of money. That is why when grown-up Pyrozh­nykov, head of the investment company in Khar­kiv, heard about his promising fellow-townsman he decided to help him do what he did not manage to do when a child.

“I played chess in the same club and my coach was Oleksii Starytsky. When a boy, I was the champion of the town, participated in competitions and dreamed about it but I had no possibilities to move ahead. When Oleksii Starytsky called me and told me about Liosha I though that God was checking me with this coincidence. I was just shocked, how it could be that in the Luhansk oblast, in our small town, in my school, though there are 15 of them in the district there is a boy of the same age I was when I played chess who can go to the world championship. This is what I dreamt about,” Pyrozhnykov says. He has never seen Liosha and, in order to check his level, he played chess with him on the phone and lost three out of four parties. Pyrozhnykov got an additional evidence of the fact that talented people should be helped whereas those without talent will make their way through on their own.

The participation in the world championship might change the life of the young chess player Liosha Kotliar fo­rever. The way Kotliars’ fa­mily raised the money for this trip has probably changed the mentality of people living in Kre­minna. A lot of Ukrai­nians have a not unfounded stereotype that the Luhansk oblast is one of the most depressive in Ukraine and few people expect simple human acts from the locals. However, it turned out that the people in this region, just like all over Ukraine, are not that indifferent and the stereotypes caused by various social, economic and political conditions are not always reasonable. These people unsel­fishly help­ed a little boy from a small town to make his dream come true. The people living in one district united and stopped being weak. Can you imagine what the people of one oblast, region or country can do?