Al Jazeera Close Up

Russia’s war won’t stop me becoming chess grandmaster | Close Up

At the age of nine, Maksym Kryshtafor has one dream: to become the world’s youngest chess grandmaster before his 12th birthday.

“Chess is honestly like air for him,” says Maksym’s mother, Iryna Kryshtafor. “He wakes up in the morning and plays chess. If he has free time, he plays chess. However he’s feeling, he plays chess.”

Maksym and his mother fled Ukraine when Russia invaded in February 2022.

They left behind their home and Maksym’s grandparents who lived with them in the southern port city of Odesa. They first made it to Romania, where they stayed for three months before the English Chess Federation invited them to start their new life in York. According to the United Nations, more than six million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries, all leaving behind loved ones and being forced to rebuild their lives.

For Maksym, chess has been a constant. “When I play chess, I feel happy. I always want to play, and I never want to stop,” says the prodigy, who developed his affinity for the game after stumbling across a chess match when he was only three. Today, he sits up tall and moves through a match with intense focus while playing against opponents triple his age.

Watch this coming-of-age story, and follow Maksym in his quest to become the world’s youngest chess grandmaster, all while finding connection to a new home and adapting to life in Britain.


Director: Kateryna Pavlyuk

Producer: Mary Pattisson

Senior Producer: Dan Hodgson

Director of Photography: Julia Alcamo

Editor: Miguel Pinto

Additional editor: Catherine Hallilan

Production Manager: Nimret Sidhu

Assistant Producer: Antonia Perello

Senior Editor: Donald Cameron

Executive Producer: Tierney Bonini