Ukrainian MMA fighter fights for family and country

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – For many Americans this is a time to connect with family, but for some in New Mexico, reuniting with family is a lot more difficult this year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainians here in New Mexico are making sure their families across the world are not forgotten.

Lena Ovchynnikova has dominated as a mixed-martial arts fighter for years. She’s not only dominated in MMA, but she’s a 14-time world champion in kick boxing, Muay Thai, and mixed martial arts. 

She trains at the famous Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque – home to many fighting champions. 

While Ovchynnikova is rehabbing from different injuries right now to continue her career in the octagon, she’s also battling a different kind of fight, outside the cage.

“My family in Ukraine now in Dnipro, and now it’s not so safety. Every day after the rockets come not so safety,” said Ovchynnikova. 

Ovchynnikova is a native Ukrainian, and is nursing herself back to fighting conditions everyday while carrying the weight of the war happening in Ukraine, where her family sits in the City of Dnipro.

Just months ago, Ovchynnikova was in Germany getting surgery to fix her blown out knee and on that same day the war broke out in her home country – leaving no way for her to return.

After she heard the news it was earth-shattering, even causing complications during her surgery.

“I had some problems with my surgery, my blood, how do you say? Pressure, pressure blood,” Ovchynnikova said. 

With nowhere to go, she came back to Jackson Wink Shot, a place she had trained just a year ago. 

“Right now she’s on refugee status,” said Michael Lyubimov, Jackson Wink MMA Academy general manager.

Although she’s far away right now, Ovchynnikova’s in contact with her family often, and supports them and Ukraine through her career.

“I talk to him every day,” she said. “I make money here, and I send to my family and for Ukrainian soldiers.” 

Ovchynnikova’s even raised money through auctioning off things on her Instagram that has over 62,000 followers – with all of the money going to Ukrainian aids.

Lyubimov holds Russian roots and understands the magnitude and tension of what’s going on overseas. He scouted Ovchynnikova as an athlete for years before she came to Jackson Wink, and they hold a special connection – partly due to Lyubimov’s father.

“My father was from Ukraine, town of Lviv, it’s a small but historical city,” said Lyubimov. 

Ovchynnikova is living and fighting out of the same city Lyubimovl’s father was from, it created an everlasting connection and sense of home.

“When she inquired and wanted to come here, I was very excited for that fact that, I don’t have anymore, my father passed away and Lena was like my only connection really to that world, so it was cool to know she was from there,” Lyubimov said. 

Now, Ovchynnikova awaits to be healthy again, rehabbing every day while keeping a fighting mindset.

“When she’s coming here to do something you know she’s always in pain, but she pushes through it,” said Lyubimov.