Hockey team of preteen Ukrainian refugees arrives in Quebec City for tournament
A team of teenage Ukrainian refugees, scattered across Europe by the war, arrived in Quebec City on Wednesday, where they will have a chance to play in a prestigious hockey tournament.
The team of 11- and 12-year-olds landed in Montreal before being bused to the provincial capital ahead of next week’s Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament, which has featured the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Guy Lafleur in the past.
The bleary-eyed team arrived at the Videotron Center in Quebec City, where they were greeted by local families who will host them during their stay. The team, wearing hats and jackets with the Ukrainian flag, had a chance to catch a glimpse of the ice, where thousands of people are expected in the stands to watch them play.
Coach Evgheniy Pysarenko called the team’s presence in Quebec City “almost a miracle”.
“Before it was an impossible mission, now it’s a miracle on ice,” he said.
Pysarenko told reporters at the hockey arena that it will be hard for players to forget the war in Ukraine, where some have fathers who are on the front lines fighting the Russian invasion.
But he hopes they leave the tournament with memories to last a lifetime and the belief that “anything is possible”.
The team, he added, is “heralds of hope” and a symbol of “spirit, strength and solidarity.”
Twelve-year-old Maksym Kukharenko, whose hometown is Kyiv, has been living in the Czech Republic for years. He said the trip to Canada had been “a very long one” but he was looking forward to playing.
“It’s very cool that I’m going to this country and this city,” he said.
His teammate, also known as Maksym, said the tournament was “a chance for us to show ourselves to other teams in America, in Canada.”
The team’s unlikely journey comes after months of efforts by Pysarenko and a Quebec City businessman who had to organize visas and travel for players displaced by the war and residing in countries across Europe.
At least one boy is originally from Cherson, which was under Russian occupation for months, and others from Odessa, which was bombed.
The Ukraine team will have some time to settle in before taking to the ice at the Videotron Center on February 11 to play the Massachusetts Junior Bruins.
Patrick Dom, the tournament’s general manager, said the past few months had been a “roller coaster of emotions” with doubts about the team’s ability to pull through.
Given what they’ve been through, Dom said he had few expectations for their performance on the ice. But in this case, the bottom line doesn’t matter.
“When they return to their country or wherever they are from, they will say, ‘There were 15,000 people cheering and wearing white shirts for peace,'” he said.
“They will remember it for the rest of their lives. We want that.”
The tournament runs from February 8th to 19th.
—Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
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