If you scroll down through seven-year-old Kira Zvereva’s Instagram, curated by mom Katrin Zvereva, you’ll find a delightful array of racing photos, the young girl sporting her signature white Arai helmet with rainbow visor. The last such photo is dated August 2021. More recent photos reflect a somber new existence as a result of the war in Ukraine, the Zvereva family’s home. Kira and Katrin have safely fled the country, but for now there is no racing.
On February 24, 2022, the world watched as Russia invaded Ukraine. In the following days, millions of Ukrainians scrambled for safety as Russian troops shelled and invaded cities. Many fled the country, while others stayed to fight.
On February 27, Kira’s mom posted the first photo illustrating the state of the Zvereva family in the early days of the invasion. Kira, six at the time, sleeps on a bare mattress in a concrete bunker. The windowless gray room holds a hasty collection of household items, small comforts until it was safe to go outside again.
I reached out to the Zvereva family just a few weeks after the war began. My friend, fellow writer Derek Powell, had shown me Kira’s profile. It’s difficult not to adore the girl in the pictures, her helmet making her seem so small but so fierce.
Katrin took a couple of days to respond–she and Kira were in transit to Italy, where they’ve remained since escaping Ukraine. Mother and daughter are safe now, and plan to stay in Italy until the war is over.
Caption: Today is my second day at an Italian school. I really like it! we had a mini disco today. Older friends gave me a mask. Peace!
You can imagine how hard it is to leave your home under these circumstances. For the Zvereva family, it’s a familiar burden. Katrin told me that she and her husband originally lived in Crimea, but fled when Russian forces invaded that state in 2014. They moved to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where Kira was born. Now, once again, they’ve been forced out of their home by a Russian invasion.
Before the invasion, the Zvereva family had been preparing to enter Kira into the next class in competitive karting. “We changed the car, the engine,” Katrin told me in an Instagram message. “Prepared for the start of the new training season. But they could not start training—the war began. Her go-kart, equipment, her father—who is both a coach and a mechanic—all this remain in Kyiv.”
Kira hasn’t seen her father since she and her mom left Ukraine. He, too, raced karts at a young age, and when Kira showed an interest in the sport, father and daughter began working on karts and going to races together. Things started slowly—karting is an expensive sport, and the family could only afford training and one race per season for Kira. She started racing at age five, in 2020, when she could finally reach the pedals, and after three months of training, she ran her first race at the Cup of Ukraine in Kiev, landing seventh. (You can watch footage from the Cup of Ukraine here.) In 2021, she took another shot at the race, again finishing seventh of 19 drivers.
With Kira’s talent and enthusiasm, the family had big plans for her racing hobby. It’s time for a bigger kart, and the Zverevas were looking for sponsors in hopes that Kira could continue driving and training throughout Europe.
Thankfully, Kira’s life in Italy offers the comfort and stability that the war destroyed in Ukraine. She’s enrolled in grade school and making new friends. She recently celebrated her seventh birthday, celebrating without her father. Katrin says it’s the longest amount of time father and daughter have spent apart. And Kira misses karting, something she sees as a major part of her future.
“I like to compete. I want to take part in all the races,” Kira says, as relayed by Katrin. “I would like to become a karting champion. In the race I do not look at anyone. I look at myself. I would like others to look at me and want to be like me.”