Ukraine Squash Federation President Dmitry Scherbakov with young squash players. (c) Squash Facilities Network

Former professional basketball player Dmitry Scherbakov has helped squash grow to new heights in Ukraine with 44 courts in fitness centres across the country. "Squash isn't a game people like to watch, it's a game people like to play," he insists.

Squash was almost unheard of in Ukraine 15 years ago but Scherbakov has almost singlehandedly raised its profile. Calling his introduction to the sport "love at first sight", Shcherbakov went on to play for the national team alongside Oleksandr Stepanov. 

Years later, Stepanov - the director general of Sport Life fitness centres - invited him to add squash as a 'pay and play' option at all Sport Life locations. Anyone can buy a cheap 'Squash Guest' card which allows them to play at any Sport Life centre in Ukraine.

Sport Life now has 74 squash coaches, many of them former racket sport or football coaches retrained by Scherbakov, who forge links with local businesses and schools. Each month, locals are invited to a club to give the sport a try with Scherbakov saying around a quarter return at a later date to either play on a social basis or attend coaching sessions.

For the last two years, Scherbakov - the Ukrainian Squash Federation president - has offered free coaching to over 100 schoolchildren at three academies in Kyiv, with courts and rackets donated free by Sport Life and coaches funded by the Ukrainian Minister of Sport.

"We have tried to keep developing squash in Ukraine as the war continues," said Scherbakov. "We do what we can. Life has to continue. I have three more projects I want to complete too. At this moment, we can try to develop facilities, get more people playing squash and train more kids. But we live day by day.

"We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Every day there are bomb attacks. But as federation president I will do my best for the future of squash in my country.

"Squash is not like tennis. People don't know what it is. Squash isn't a game people like to watch, it's a game people like to play. So I invite them to Sport Life and get them to play."

Son Dmytro is a four-time national junior champion and moved to Romania when the war started to continue his squash development. He turned 19 last month and is currently in his first year playing for Trinity College in Connecticut. Scherbakov hopes others can follow his lead after Ukraine's World Junior Championship debut in August 2022.

He said, "I hope in two, three or five years we will have very strong juniors who will play in European Squash Federation tournaments and will bring us good results."

Only last month, at the European Junior Team Championships in Porto, Ukraine's under-15s finished 10th out of 15 teams thanks to wins over Greece and Spain. The under-17s were 18th from 20 teams after a sole win over the Greeks.

With Scherbakov leading passionately from the front and standards rising continually, the future for Ukrainian squash appears bright.