Former Edward Little High School and UMaine star Troy Barnies, left, plays for Mykolaiv in a game against BC Prometey in November. He is a power forward in Ukraine’s top pro basketball league, but decided to leave the country three days before Russian troops began their invasion Wednesday. Photo courtesy the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague

Troy Barnies spent Saturday night the way he had so many times before in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Bars and restaurants were busy in the riverside city of nearly half a million people near the Black Sea. Barnies, a professional basketball player in the nation’s top league, was out for a meal and drinks with his teammates before a day off.

He knew about the reports of Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders. But he understood that displays of Russian military power were a normal part of life in Ukraine.

“That’s what my Ukrainian teammates and team management told me,” Barnies said. “Russia does this. They make these provocations. They stressed that there was no need to panic.”

For weeks, he had watched the news closely as pressure to leave the country steadily grew.

At 33, Barnies has spent 11 seasons playing professional basketball in Europe. The 6-foot-7 power forward is realistic about how much time he may have left to play the game that has happily consumed his life since he was a boy.


“It’s basketball 24/7, everything’s second,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to do it until the wheels fall off, doing it as much and as long as I could.”

Barnies has long been a standout athlete, playing high school ball at Edward Little in Auburn and then moving on to the University of Maine at Orono. Two years ago, he flew home to Auburn when the city renamed a public court in his honor, and he has held clinics for kids in the city during his off-seasons.

When his contract with a Lithuanian team ended last year, Barnies told his agent that wherever he landed next, he wanted to make an impact, to find a good fit. Signing to play in Mykolaiv was a pure basketball decision.

Maine native Troy Barnies plays a home game last month against BC Budivelnyk. Photo courtesy of the Ukranian Basketball SuperLeague

“I wanted to find a team I could contribute (to) and be a leader on the team, and the team management asked me to do that,” Barnies said. “That’s why I decided to come here.”

When the Russian army began encircling the nation, he felt he owed it to his Ukrainian teammates and fans to stick it out.

It helped that pro-level basketball was all-consuming. Two practices a day, watch film before a game, focus on the job. Practice, compete, sleep, repeat. With his wife at home in Norway, where she is studying to become a doctor, Barnies was alone to decide whether to stay or go.


Pressure to leave Ukraine ramped up in late January, when the U.S. State Department urged American citizens to flee the country.

“That’s when we started to panic,” Barnies said.

His teammates and managers met to discuss the situation and talk through options. Barnies felt the team was working hard to handle the situation as best it could. Yet there were ominous tips about how to prepare, like the recommendation that he keep his belongings mostly packed up.

Day by day, more foreign players melted off the rosters across the league.

He tossed the decision around in his head. What if I leave and nothing happens? What if I stay and it gets worse?

His mother, Lorie Barnies, was worried about him and texted from Maine.


“I decided to stay,” Barnies said. “Everything was OK. Nothing changed here.”

The team managers tried to keep the players focused, but it was nearly impossible not to spend downtime glued to news coverage as more Russian troops, armor and ships encroached over time, he said. He and the other handful of foreign players on his team swapped ideas and talked about what they should do.

Last Thursday, Mykolaiv played against the team from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capitol, and led the team in scoring with 18 points. On the other bench, all but one of the foreign players had already fled the country. About 70 percent of foreign players across the league were already gone.

Friday and Saturday felt like life as normal in Mykolaiv.

Then he woke up Sunday to a message from his agent: It was time to get out.

“I booked my own flight out of Ukraine and I left the same day,” Barnies said.


He shared a minivan with a Croatian teammate for the two-hour trip to the nearest major airport, in Odessa, and soon was airborne to Norway to reunite with his wife.

The timing was impeccable. Three days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, starting with an assault on airports and military airbases nationwide.

Now safe in Sør-Varanger, Barnies remains conflicted about leaving and uncertain what the future might bring. He doesn’t have a court nearby in Norway for practice, but he’s not too worried about losing his edge. He’s more concerned for the people in Ukraine.

“I have this big feeling of relief because I’m not there, but it’s stressful because I have friends there and people I care about there,” he said. “This is the biggest disaster that’s happened in maybe 100 years.”

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