Immigrant offered spot on Ukrainian Olympic team, joins IDF instead

Liana Volganov, a mountaineer and a wall climber, was offered a position on Ukraine’s Olympic team for Tokyo 2020, but decided that she would rather join the IDF Artillery Corps.

A SELECTION of photos of women in the IDF from inside ‘Women on the Front Lines.’ (photo credit: DEBBIE ZIMELMAN)
A SELECTION of photos of women in the IDF from inside ‘Women on the Front Lines.’
(photo credit: DEBBIE ZIMELMAN)

Liana Volganov, a native of Ukraine, has reached first place and been crowned several times as the champion rock climber for her club in various competitions, reported Israel Hayom.

For Volganov, the type of mountains she has climbed were unlike her experience in the IDF, in which she serves as a soldier in the Artillery Corps. "I was in professional sports from the age of 4. My whole life has been competitions, training and healthy eating," she says.

At the age of 17, three years before immigrating to Israel, she defeated opponents in one of the world's most important contests and was crowned European champion. At 20, her road to the Olympics was paved for her.

Everything changed when she received a phone call. "[An acquaintance] called me and said that because I'm half-Jewish, I have the opportunity to go on a Birthright tour. I wanted to rest  [from the training], and so I agreed.”

“From the age of 4, I was constantly in competitions and training, and it wasn't easy. I wanted a break." This break, she says, had changed her life. "I didn't know anything about Israel and when I saw the country I said 'Wow, here I want to live.”

In an extraordinary move, Jana decided to leave the sport and immigrate to Israel, where she began learning Hebrew. Although she left the sport of rock climbing, Ukraine did not give up the outstanding climber.

The Ukrainian Olympic committee "called me many times and asked me to come back because I qualified for the Olympics. I had a really hard time. I cried, but I knew I wanted to live in Israel.”

After leaving Ukraine and her commitment to rock climbing, she turned 22 while learning Hebrew in the IDF, at the Michve Alon base. “I knew three words – peace, bathroom and air conditioner.” From there, I was recruited to a role in the Artillery Corps. “"I once rode the train, saw soldiers with weapons and said I wanted to be like them. I was also in the market; I haven’t seen anything like that before. I didn't have to enlist, but I felt the need to do it. To be part of the country.”

She currently lives in Rishon LeZion with her parents, and she still does rock climbing as a hobby, but due to her service, she won’t be going to the Olympics. Although Jana gave up one dream, she created new dreams here. "I have just completed a bachelor's degree in economics in Ukraine, and my goal is to build a sports-related business in Israel. In the meantime, I feel like I have a second family in the artillery.

"I'm also waiting for a Nativ (conversion) seminar because I want to be Jewish. I still love Ukraine, but now Israel is also my country," she concludes with a big smile.