UTEP international athletes displaced by COVID-19

UTEP

EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – As part of the university’s response to COVID-19, UTEP has directed all students living on campus to find a different living situation by Monday, March 30. For international students, that’s perhaps easier said than done.

Three UTEP women’s basketball players from overseas have had to scramble in the last two weeks to find somewhere to live to finish the semester. 

“Everything is going to be how it’s going to be, because you don’t know how things will be in a week or even in a day,” said UTEP sophomore guard Sabine Lipe.

With UTEP asking its students to find an off-campus living situation by Monday, and the European travel ban impeding her way home to Latvia, Lipe didn’t know where to turn, until teammate Katia Gallegos’s family offered her a place to stay. 

“Our team is really close and we all help each other, so if I couldn’t stay with Katia, one of my other teammates would’ve said, ‘you could stay with me,’” Lipe said.  

Two other Miners, Katarina Zec and Neidy Ocuane, were in similar situations.

With Serbia shutting down all travel into the country for the time being, Zec turned to a Serbian family in El Paso for help.

“It’s really nice, especially knowing someone that can speak your language and someone to lean on,” Zec said.

Meanwhile, Ocuane was one of 81 UTEP students that successfully appealed to the university to allow her to remain living on campus, as she rehabs from knee surgery and needs easy access to the training facility.

“I explained my situation, because I just had surgery, I can’t even move my stuff out yet,” Ocuane said. “They understood and they let me stay.” 

All three Miners will finish up the semester of online classes, then reassess their situations. However, travel bans across the globe make getting home nearly impossible right now. 

The United States issued a travel ban for Europe and the United Kingdom earlier this month, but the U.S. isn’t the only country to do so.

According to the United States Embassy in Serbia, the country is reporting 526 cases of coronavirus, with eight deaths as of March 26. The Serbian government has issued a mandatory curfew for all residents from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., closed all schools and canceled all sporting events.

Additionally, gatherings of five or more people are banned and spending time in parks or places of recreation is also prohibited.

Travel, by air, land or river, has been closed to all travelers into Serbia; only cargo and diplomatic travel is currently permitted.

“I have a friend who plays basketball at Tennessee and he flew on the last flight that went into Serbia, but from now on no flights are allowed,” Zec said. “You can’t even drive in, so the borders are really closed.” 

Latvia has 280 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with no reported deaths as of March 26, according to the United States Embassy in Latvia. The Latvian government has not imposed as strict of travel restrictions as Serbia yet; however, on March 17, the Latvian government prohibited non-Latvian citizens from entering the country. Citizens from any country are permitted to leave Latvia.

While there are flights and other avenues of transportation back into Latvia, Lipe said they are limited and hard to access.

“If you want to get on those planes, you have to do the paperwork, but it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get on it, so it’s risky to go home right now,” Lipe said.

Meanwhile, Mozambique had just three confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 23, but all schools and universities have closed and gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited.

Through it all, the players are missing what matters most: their families.

“They are worried about me and I’m worried about them, so we try to communicate as much as we can,” Ocuane said.

“I miss mom’s cooking, that’s for sure. You just want to be with your family, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks,” said Lipe.

The Miners have a fourth international player; freshman Arina Khlopkova was able to get home to Moscow, Russia, earlier this week.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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