1676722582 Hockey is brought back to life against all odds

Hockey is brought back to life against all odds

Kyiv, Ukraine | After a good year 2022 hard, the pro players are back on the ice. And this, even if the The challenges for local hockey remain significant.

Yevgeny Govorushko will never forget February 24, 2022. That day, the 23-year-old left winger saw a Russian missile headed towards Donetsk through his window.

“At that moment I understood that the war was beginning. I wasn’t thinking about hockey anymore, I was thinking about something else, ”he modestly admits in impeccable English, a memory of several years in developing leagues in the United States.

It must be said that the city of Kramatorsk, located in the Donbass region, was heavily affected by Russian bombing. Half the city is now in ruins.

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However, after an 8-month break, professional ice hockey in Ukraine was finally able to resume on October 6, 2022. And for Yevgeny, this news was like a breath of fresh air.

“Today, hockey helps us, the players, but also the population, to see that we live on here in Ukraine. The war didn’t destroy us mentally,” explains the man who now dreams of playing in the United States again “when the war is over”.

Bad infrastructure

This season, the local championship brings together six teams developing in three cities across the country and meeting several times before the playoffs.

During the 24-hour visit to Kyiv, Yevgeni’s new team, Sokil, received another team from the capital, HC Kyiv, at the Sports Palace.

Hockey is brought back to life against all odds

Photo Mathieu Carbasse

A simple professional ice hockey game? Not really, as Ukrainian ice hockey has had many difficulties since the Russian invasion began almost a year ago. It is therefore not trivial to bring it back to life today. It’s even a small achievement.

Because playing ice hockey in times of war is not that easy.

In the event of a bomb alert, for example, games are canceled and even postponed if the threat persists. But that’s not really the main difficulty.

Because the most problematic for Ukrainian ice hockey today is the advanced state of infrastructure destruction.

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“Here in Kiev we only have three arenas. It’s definitely not enough for such a big city,” said Sokil Kyiv team coach Konstantin Simchuk, who, in addition to assisting the national team, also directs the local hockey school, regrets it.

“Many arenas were located in Donetsk and its region (one of the hardest hit by the Russian strikes, Ed). Almost 80% of the arenas in the country have now been destroyed.

1676722574 890 Hockey is brought back to life against all odds

Photo Mathieu Carbasse

Adding to the lack of infrastructure is the lack of players. An estimated 200 top athletes are currently at the forefront. Including several professional ice hockey players.

“Before the war, many players came from abroad. From now on we only have to rely on Ukrainian players,” says Konstantin Simchuk, who has spent his career as a goalkeeper between American minor leagues and the Russian professional league.

And this lack of players also affects the youngest.

“A year ago the hockey school had about 450 children, he regrets. After Russia invaded Ukraine, many families left the country. Today we only have 150 children in our school.”

A crying need for funding

What does Ukrainian ice hockey need now in order to be able to function sustainably?

“We need help for young people and for our hockey schools. We need help to support our competitions, to renovate the arenas. But despite everything, Ukrainian ice hockey is still alive!”, declares the president of the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation Georgii Zubko, whose voice sounds like Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Speaking of money, we have already received more than $1 million in donations. Unfortunately, that’s not enough, he adds. We would need $2 million a year for our operations. And I’m not even talking about the renovation of arenas and infrastructure.

1676722577 467 Hockey is brought back to life against all odds

Photo Mathieu Carbasse

To fund the revival of ice hockey in Ukraine, Georgii Zubko established the Save ukrainian hockey dream foundation. This organization collects all kinds of donations, “$5 or $10 for individuals, but also $150,000 for large corporations that want to contribute.”

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One thing is certain: Without foreign support, Ukrainian ice hockey cannot function in the long term. At least while the war is raging in the country.

“We are very grateful for every post on Facebook, for every dollar donated, for every form of support for Ukrainian players,” concludes the President of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine.

For the record, it was Sokil’s team that won 4-1 that night. Sokil, considered the title favorite this year, had two other teams: Dnipro Kherson and Kremenchuk.

To support hockey in Ukraine: https://saveukrainianhockeydream.org

This report was produced with the financial support of the Fonds québécois en journalisme international.

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