SIT DOWN WITH STEVE: Ukrainian Professional Basketball Player Ieshia Small of Daytona Escapes Kyiv

By  //  March 13, 2022

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The days since leaving Ukraine has been an emotional rollercoaster for Small

WATCH: Ukrainian professional basketball player, Ieshia Small, talks with Steve Wilson in the latest edition of “Sit Down with Steve.” Small, currently living in Daytona Beach, FL, left Ukraine approximately one week before Ukraine was invaded by Russia. She talks about the months, weeks, and days leading up to her decision to leave Ukraine, her time spent in Kyiv, and much more in this exclusive interview.

When asked about the Ukrainian’s resolve to fight, she said, “It doesn’t surprise me. I know how much of a big deal it was to get their independence from Russia. I think that played a huge part in why people stayed to fight.”

Ieshia Small was destined to play basketball at a high level. A Daytona Beach resident, she was one of the top high school basketball players in the country during her senior year of high school.

With multiple scholarship offers, she chose to attend Baylor University, and after two years with the Bears, she transferred to the University of Maryland.

After graduation, Small chose to continue her basketball career, playing professionally overseas and her third year of pro basketball took her to Kyiv, Ukraine, to play for the Kyiv Basket.

In the months leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, and although Russia was moving military equipment close to the Ukraine border, for the most part, there was little concern by the Ukrainians.

According to Small, even by mid-January, there was no mention by the Ukraine media of a possible invasion.

Small was getting her information from back home in the United States then had a conversation with her coach to express her concerns.

She was assured that there was no need for her to worry because Russia had been threatening to invade for eight years and nothing had happened.

After another conversation with her coaches in late January, Small was again reassured there was no need for concern. However, she was in a delicate situation and due to safety concerns, one of Small’s teammates decided to leave the team.

At that critical point, she was being threatened with a possible lawsuit for breach of contract and warned she would be banned from playing basketball in Ukraine, which would impact her playing professionally overseas.

About that time, Small received an alarming email from the U.S. Embassy, telling her to stay away from certain areas of Kyiv because of anti-American sentiment.

Ieshia Small, 24, above with her Ukrainian teammates, chose to continue her basketball career, playing professionally overseas and her third year of pro basketball took her to Kyiv, Ukraine, to play for the Kyiv Basket.

Small said propaganda was being spread that Americans were responsible for starting the war, and we were the ones that have made it bigger than what it is.

There were multiple factors that led Small to the decision to leave Ukraine, including President Joe Biden’s urging that every American in Ukraine needed to leave.

She had also expressed concerns with her parents numerous times. Small prayed about it and said, “I kept getting signs. In my opinion, it was signs from God.” She then departed Ukraine on Feb. 14 – 10 days before the Russian invasion.

Small described the days since leaving Ukraine as being an emotional rollercoaster.

“I’m in complete tears,” she said after hearing of the invasion. “There were so many things going through my mind: What if I were still there? What about my teammates? At least I had a way out. That’s their home.”

Ieshia Small was destined to play basketball at a high level. A Daytona Beach resident, she was one of the top high school basketball players in the country during her senior year of high school.

 

Although Small keeps up with what is going on in Ukraine, she tries to stay away from it as much as possible.

“Every time I would see something, I would just automatically start crying,” said Small.

She has stayed in contact with a few of her teammates since the invasion but did not want to ask too many specific questions.

“Please stay safe, please stay safe,” she told her teammate. “Make sure you guard your family and do whatever you need to do. I’m praying for you.”

When asked about the Ukrainian’s resolve to fight, she said, “It doesn’t surprise me. I know how much of a big deal it was to get their independence from Russia. I think that played a huge part in why people stayed to fight.”

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