ALEX Gladkov leads a settled, happy life in Glasgow. He lives in the East End, within easy reach of the Emirates Arena where he trains, and the athletes’ village, where he will be based during the Commonwealth Games.
Having been selected to wrestle for Scotland in the 65-kg weight category, the 28-year-old might well have hoped for a calm, problem-free build-up to the Games.
But, while life in his adoptive city is good, events in his native Ukraine are causing him increasing concern.
Born in Lugansk on the eastern border with Russia, Gladkov grew up in Germany and originally came to Scotland when his father, Vladimir, got a job as coach to our national wrestling squad. But his grandfather, Leonid, still lives in the city, where tension is high as the pro-Russian section of the population continues to protest against the new government in Kiev, the capital far off to the west.
There is still a semblance of normality in Lugansk according to Gladkov, and he thinks it unlikely at present that his grandfather’s safety will be seriously endangered. Still, he cannot help but worry about his relative, and about the future for the people with whom he grew up, and whose concerns he still shares.
“I speak to my grandfather every day, especially more so now,” Gladkov said. “I’ve always been quite close to him. It’s very much a worrying time right now. At the moment it’s peace and quiet so far, but the situation is quite dangerous.
“You wouldn’t want to be around the areas where the action is taking place, but everywhere else daily life goes on. People go to shops and schools. It can get quite dangerous, but even so I’m not really concerned Ukrainian soldiers are going to go around houses and flats attacking people.
“I think the main danger is somewhere around the government buildings, not so in the surrounding areas. Now you have a situation where Ukrainian soldiers need to be fighting Ukrainian people. It’s a difficult situation even for the soldiers.”
Any civil strife is distressing for those involved, but Gladkov also admits to being perplexed by events in his native country. He was born during the last years of the Soviet Union, when the countries were virtually merged, and in history class he learned that Russia as we know it today began in Kiev.
“That’s the funny bit,” he continued. “Now it’s been separated between Russian and Ukrainians when in reality it is more or less ethnically the same people. You do have a border, but you don’t really feel a difference when you cross the borders.
“If you look back, Russia more or less originated from Kiev then it spread out from there.
There’s a lot of history, friendship and conflict. I would think most people think we are more or less ethnically and mentally the same people, with slight differences.
“Every conflict, especially in Ukraine, should have been solved peacefully. I do not agree with the actions which have been taking place in Kiev, because initially it started as a student protest then developed into something completely horrible with different parties getting involved.”
Gladkov hopes that his grandfather will find some way of watching him compete this summer. Leonid has no plans to visit Glasgow in person, but the popularity of wrestling in eastern Europe increases the chance that he will find a TV channel that is showing at least some of the action.
As for Gladkov’s own hopes, he has a realistic appreciation of how tough the competition will be in Glasgow. “It’s very hard. There will probably be at least one Olympic silver medallist from India. The Canadians are really strong. Nigerians. Every other country too. I respect all of my opponents.”
Having gone to secondary school in Queensferry and spent much of his adult life here, Gladkov feels “more or less” Scottish now. The full picture, though, is of a man who has taken something from everywhere he has lived. “It’s really strange. Most of my life I’ve spent in Germany. I did feel comfortable there – I have lots of friends and finished university in Germany. I lived in three different places out there.
“I will always have my roots: my ancestors are all Russian. I was born in Ukraine, spent most of my life in Germany and I’ve picked up things from every country.”
Being the son of a coach, he has clearly picked up a lot of wrestling knowledge from his father.
But there is one essential piece of parental advice from which, he explained, he has benefitted more than any other.
“My dad always said you can pick anything you like – an artist, musician, politician, lawyer, doctor. But just do it right.
“Whatever you pick, do it properly. So I picked wrestling.”