Oleh Plotnytskyi (source: cev.eu)

Ukraine are in a really difficult pool for the upcoming men’s FIVB Road to Paris Volleyball Qualifiers. They are a strong team with a lot of talent, but certainly not among the favourites to win one of the two Olympic tickets from the tournament in Rio de Janeiro. However, they have Oleh Plotnytskyi, their captain, a known game changer, who can make the difference in any match.

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The 26-year-old star outside hitter of the Ukrainian national team and Italy’s Sir Susa Vim Perugia hopes for a positive outcome of the Pool A tournament in Rio from September 30 through October 8, where his side will compete against Cuba, Czechia, Germany, Iran, Italy, Qatar and hosts Brazil, but also keeps his feet firmly on the ground, well aware of the difficulty of this task at hand.

“It is the first time for us,” Plotnytskyi told Volleyball World. “For sure, it is the most difficult tournament: seven matches in nine days! It’s not just about technique; you have to be ready physically. I hope we will be. But we have a really difficult group as well, with the likes of Brazil, Italy, Cuba, Iran... All these are top teams, who also play in the VNL. It will be difficult for sure, but... we will see. We will do our best, but to be realistic, Brazil and Italy are the highest-level teams in the pool. So to win the ticket, I think we have to play every match at 200%. It is difficult, but surely we will fight. And if we play well, maybe at least we can come back with improved positions in the World Ranking.”


Showing the way

Ukraine’s most recent competition was the CEV European Championship in August and September. It left Plotnytskyi with mixed feelings, because the team started the tournament in Bulgaria with three consecutive defeats, but then put their act together to win the next three games and reach the quarterfinals before being knocked out by the strong team of Slovenia and stopped just short of their dream to reach the semifinals in Italy. Still, the 1.90m-tall striker said that if the right conclusions were drawn, that could help the team do better in Rio.

“We had a difficult start, but then the team showed that we are strong together. We can fight, we can come back fast and be like a team,” Plotnytskyi said. “We did not achieve the result that we expected. We wanted to go to the Final Four in Rome and I think the way we played in the last three matches we deserved it, but just in the last three matches. The first three were the reason we didn’t go to Rome. So at the Olympic qualifier, we have to start immediately. We have to start pushing, be aggressive and always be focused.”


Early into his competitive career, Oleh represented Ukraine in both beach and indoor volleyball. Together with his current national squad teammate Illia Kovalov, he earned silver at the 2014 FIVB U19 Beach Volleyball World Championship in Porto, in addition to a couple of continental bronzes the following year, at the CEV Beach Volleyball European Tour Masters in Biel/Bienne and at the CEV U20 Beach Volleyball European Championship in Larnaka. They even competed at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, where they finished ninth.

But, of course, Plotnytskyi dreams of competing at the big Olympics.

“I imagine the Olympic Games... It has to be something really special, even just winning the ticket and knowing that you would go there,” he said. “Then, you start thinking about how you are going to perform there. And it would be really special for us, Ukrainians, now in particular, when there is a war and we have to push even harder.”

Oleh’s indoor volleyball star was born at the 2016 CEV U20 Volleyball European Championship in Bulgaria, where he arrived directly from Thessaloniki in neighbouring Greece with a fourth place at the U22 Beach Volleyball European Championship. He had an impressive performance in Plovdiv and led underdogs Ukraine to a sensational silver, making headlines with some miraculous long serving runs in the money time of key matches, which earned him the Most Valuable Player award, despite the fact that his team lost the final.

The following season, Plotnytskyi made his debut with the senior national team, helping Ukraine on the way to a CEV European League gold. Despite being one of the youngest players on the squad, he was soon elected to be the team captain.


Leading Ukraine as the team captain at the 2022 World Championship

“The team chose me. OK, I want to be captain and when we cast our votes I voted for myself,” he admitted at the time. “But the others voted for me as well. I think the reason was that they know I can give them a lot of emotional energy.”

With Plotnytskyi on the squad, the Ukrainian national team continued their rise, while Oleh himself continued to excel individually as well, topping a number of statistical charts, most notably the best server ranking at the 2022 FIVB Men’s World Championship.


Plotnytskyi in attack during the 2022 World Championship quarterfinal against Slovenia

Young Oleh started his club career at Ukraine’s Lokomotiv Kharkiv, but soon after the team won the national title in 2017 and Plotnytskyi claimed the MVP award of the season, he made his first international transfer and competed for Italy’s Vero Volley Monza over the next two seasons, reaching the CEV Challenge Cup final in 2019.

That year he transferred to Sir Safety Conad Perugia and he still defends the club’s colours today. During his time in Perugia, Plotnytskyi won the Italian Super Cup three times (MVP in 2023) and the Italian Cup once. Most importantly, he is a reigning 2022 club world champion and reached the CEV Champions League semifinals three times in a row, but on the eve of the upcoming SuperLega Credem Banca season, he still dreams of winning the title of Italian national champion, after settling for silver in 2021 and in 2022.

“In Perugia, the goal is always the same: to win everything,” Plotnytskyi said. “Before the European Championship, my Ukrainian teammates and I put down our top dreams or goals on paper. I wrote the Olympic Games first, and winning the Italian championship second...”