KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Marat Usov, 17, came to the United States in August, six months after his home country Ukraine was invaded by Russia.
"When war started, it was just, like, regular day," Usov said.
He lived in Kyiv at the time but remembers family members from Kharkiv calling his mother to warn them.
"First day was really bad, really scary because nobody, everybody was confused in Ukraine, and nobody did understand what’s going on," Usov said.
Every few hours, Usov says he would wake up to watch the news, constantly hearing booms nearby. Loud sounds are still hard for him to hear today, even if it's fireworks or a thunderstorm.
Usov's family thought it would be best for him to come to the U.S. for his own safety. Through mutual friends, he was able to find a host family at the last minute — Jeff and Jamie Berg. He was then enrolled at Pembroke Hill School.
Leaving his mother in Italy and father in Ukraine, Usov traveled over 5,000 miles to Kansas City, bringing with him his love of swimming.
The 17-year-old started swimming when he was 4 years old and has competed all over eastern Europe.
It was no question he would join teams in Kansas City, one of which is the Pembroke Hill boys swim and dive team.
"From day one, he just started working really hard, and he’s motivated the entire team around him," said head coach Chad Holmes. "He brought his work ethic to the team."
In his four months, Usov has broken eight school records — five individual and three relay races.
"What it’s done is it’s made Pembroke recognized in the Kansas City area as a swimming program to compete with," Holmes said. "And also around the state of Missouri, a lot of people have been interested in Pembroke now because we're competing against all the teams that are usually at the top of the state."
Even in an isolated sport, Usov says he finally feels like he's part of a team.
"In Ukraine, I didn’t have a really big team, so now it’s a really big deal," Usov said. "It’s a little bit different, during practice you can talk a little bit with your teammates and discuss something. It’s really cool."
Even before coming over, Usov had dreams of swimming for a U.S. college team. His focus now is on making his dream a reality, prioritizing swimming, studying and college applications.
Although, his host mom Jamie is insistent on him having fun and getting the most out of his American high school experience.
"My favorite thing is sports because in Ukraine we don’t have sports in schools, and now it’s like really cool," he said. "It’s a lot of sports like swimming, diving, basketball..."
The senior has also made a myriad of friends, people who have taken him in and embraced him during a challenging chapter of his life.