Ukrainian chess grandmaster in Bay Area, raising money for country after fleeing the war

A Ukranian chess grandmaster, ranked in the top 200 in the world, is among the refugees to arrive in the Bay Area in the wake of Russia's invasion in the country. 23-year-old Evgeny Shtembuliak is now using his skills and connections in the chess world to raise awareness and money for Ukraine.

Evgeny fled Ukraine with his girlfriend and his mother after bombs began to fall one month ago near Kyiv. 

"The day it started at 5am. I heard some bombs blowing," said Evgeny Shtembuliak. "We stayed in my bathroom all night, because there were no windows, so we thought it was going to be safer to stay there."

Thousands of miles away, in Mill Valley, his chess student and friend, Thomas Cunningham reached out.

"We were horrified of course, and my wife immediately said that if they can get out, they can come here," said Cunningman.

"Honestly I have no words, I’m just very grateful," said Shtembuliak.

But, Shtembuliak says initially he was torn over what to do.

"Leave the country and try to raise money, raise awareness or stay in the country, take the rifle and go there," said Shtembuliak.

Allowed to leave because of a health condition, he says he quickly realized he could use his chess skills to better serve his country. Before retiring from the sport recently, Shtembuliak won the World Junior Chess Championship in 2019.

"I’m using my chess expertise to raise awareness and raise money," said Shtembuliak.

Recently, he and a friend, gathered all their chess students together on Zoom for an eight-hour marathon fundraiser. 

MORE: Russia shells areas in Ukraine where it vowed to scale back operations

"We were playing with people, doing different chess lectures, and encouraging them to donate money," said Shtembuliak.

Shtembuliak says they raised upwards of $15,000 for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. And just this past Sunday, he participated in a chess camp in Palo Alto to raise more money for Ukraine.

"Honestly I’m not really certain what’s going to happen tomorrow so I’m just trying to live day by day," said Shtembuliak.

Shtembuliak says his immediately family all managed to get out of the country.
His father and brother are in Australia. Shtembuliak says he's working to bring his mother and girlfriend to the US.