Imagine, if you will, that the sickening horrors of war have come to your own country: that it has invaded your own city, and that it is a real and horrifying threat to your very existence, to your family, to everyone that you care about and to everything that matters to you.
Picture, if you can, looking out your own livingroom window to see bombs falling from the sky, tanks rolling down your street, and guns blazing right outside your home. Now envision the images of devastation that are normally reserved for history books – of buildings that once stood proud and tall, now just bricks and debris strewn all over the street, of the libraries and museums that once housed all the treasures of your culture, now worthless piles of scrap.
There are roads that no longer can be passed, bridges that can no longer be crossed. The stores, the schools, the churches – they no longer exist. And now visualize a state-of-the-art rink, the crown jewel of your nation’s hockey community, intentionally firebombed and set ablaze. Would you, at that point, cancel hockey? The Women of The Ukraine did not.
Raging War should have been enough. Add to that, no longer being funded. Not landing sponsors to offset that loss of funding. Not having the proper equipment. Not getting any ice slots at the rink. Not having anywhere to turn – and not having anyone to go to. It all adds up to not having any reasonable chance at all. It very much looks like a blueprint for oblivion. It is, upon any objective review, a death sentence. Yet none of those deterrents succeeded. The Women of The Ukraine did not fold.
That their game survived this onslaught can be traced to an ultra-determined leadership. That they are now growing in numbers, in stature, and in skill level can be traced to a supremely passionate membership.
Permit me to introduce you to a handful of these players – proud, iron-willed female skaters who comprise perhaps the most resilient hockey community on this planet. While the reading of their words can be moving, the hearing of their voices is far more telling.
“I Cannot Imagine My Life without Hockey” - Masha Gromova
“I've never done professional sports in my life. But 3 years ago, when I found out about the first women's ice hockey team in Ukraine, I decided to try. Now I cannot imagine my life without hockey. Our team gathered many different and very interesting girls, we became very friendly. We became a family. Each of us is different, but we are united by team spirit and love of hockey. We want to achieve high results in this sport and we work hard on it! We all live by a dream — that we have a national team in our country and that we perform at the world level. Ukrainochka (her team) trains 4 times a week and we have 35 players of different ages from 12 to 54 years. We train moms and daughters and sisters. Unfortunately, we do not have a sponsor yet and we pay for our training by ourselves. Because of the high cost of ice, some cannot afford it. I really love my team!”
Masha went on to thank Kelly Ann Whelan, who created the website forwomenshockeyinukraine.org, and also Julia Artemieva, an original founder of women’s hockey in The Ukraine and now head of the Women's Committee - Federation Hockey of Ukraine.
“Hockey became the Passion of My Life” - Tatiana Tkachenko
“My name is Tatiana Tkachenko, I’m 36 and I am president of the Dnepr Queens women hockey team of Dnipro, Ukraine. From the very childhood, I was in the figure skating and could never imagine myself as a hockey player. Especially considering that I left professional sport in my 17th year in order to study and work, as it was hard to combine sport and life.”
“By chance, two years ago I went to the men hockey training and since that time hockey became the passion of my life. I met women and young girls there, who breathe the same hockey-eager air and we just want to play, to train, to compete and to win. A year ago, we were informed that some Ukrainian cities had formed their own women hockey teams for taking part in the national competition, we couldn’t resist ourselves and registered our team, Dnepr Queens.”
“One can imagine how much time we put into being at the same level as professional hockey players, having trainings before and after work. We won every single game and we became champions the first year of the team. No words can describe how it is to take the hockey passion and build it in the life schedule. Every member of the team has work, family, kids and we do our best to find time for long and hard trainings, to honor and to be a part of our hockey team.”
“Of course, we face lots of difficulties both in our hockey life and in its combination with our personal lives. But we believe in ourselves, we attract young people and kids into hockey by taking part in different cultural events, and by inviting people to hockey trainings, as we really want hockey to be popular in Ukraine.”
“The most difficult is the financial side of the hockey. Our government doesn’t support hockey financially and we understand that our country lives through the tough times and we pray for our soldiers protecting our lives nowadays.”
“In the beginning of September, we traveled to Latvia to participate in the Women International Cup of Baltics and we got the second place. Moreover, we realized how important are this kind of sharing hockey game experience.’
“Currently our team is partly supported by our own finances as we pay for the trainings, hockey outfit, travel expenses, etc. from our own money, and the support of our families and friends.”
“But that is a small piece of the cake, we are looking for sponsors who can support us in our wish to make hockey popular in Ukraine, to involve Ukrainian youth into it, and to one day raise Ukrainian flag in the finals of the World Cup.”
“I always dreamt to be a part of a sisterhood…Now I have one” - Maryna Borysenko
“Hi! My name is Maryna Borysenko and I'm Ukrainian. I represent HC Dnipro Squirrels as a founder, player and manager. Ice Hockey is my passion, important part of my live and is becoming my profession. But it has not always been like this. If someone told me when I was in my 20th year that I would play ice hockey I would say, "How come? Not possible!" Simply because there was no female hockey in Ukraine”.
“In 2011-2014 I lived in United Arab Emirates. That is a great country and despite the many advantages there I deeply missed 2 things - snow & ice and good company of female friends.
Just to satisfy my needs for those two things I joined the women' hockey team there. It is called Dubai Gazelles. My skating level at that time was very low, and I had hard times at the training sessions; but the girls were so kind to me!”
“The team spirit is great, they lend me gear, gave lots of support. There I learned what fun it is to be among a team and what a great kind of sport it is. For sure Dnipro Squirrels were born thanks to the seed they planted. Since 2014 I'm back in Dnipro, Ukraine. And guess what I started to miss after Dubai? Not the sun and the beaches but ice hockey!”
“So, in early 2015 I managed to gather about 5 girls in our city’s practice arena and we started to train with an amateur men’s team. Somehow, at that time, ice hockey was considered as a male-only sport. I saw many surprised faces, heard lots of laughing at sexist comments, and felt resentment. But we grew, we developed and we improved!”
“I was the first captain of the first girls’ hockey team in Dnipro. After a year of training with men, we grew enough to have separate training sessions. The financial side is the most difficult one. Despite the fact that I and my team play in the National Female League we are not paid as players and we actually sponsor ourselves. We pay for ice rental. We buy our gear and equipment”
“In 2015 in Ukraine there were only us and HC Ukrainocka, the team from Kyiv. But thanks to great effort and devotion of Julia Artemieva (then the captain of Ukrainocka and now a vice-president of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine) we got financial support for the National Championship. All the costs for organizing and holding it were paid. Then 3 more teams appeared in Ukraine and participating in the National Championship was more challenging.”
“Most of the girls are not professional players, we all have other jobs, so training and traveling for the games from November until March was not easy. We all took it very seriously. There were ups and downs, great moments and great disappointments and sacrifices. I'm the manager of my team, it's like my family, with lots of sisters! I always dreamt to be a part of a sisterhood, like those in elite universities. Now I have one."
“We all different, we respect each other, we argue and we laugh together, we support each other and we share the good moments of our lives. We overcame most of problems, like lack of gear and late training hours (due to lack of spare ice at the only rink in the city).”
“Now sports community treats us with respect. We have a great team, that I'm proud of. We are led by best captain ever, Viktoriya Denysenko, and we looking forward to the new 2017-2018 season!”
“Even if Women Hockey Dies Again, as in 1995, We Will Continue Our Training” - Inna & Lena Vonsovich
“When we graduated from specialized sport school we were suggested to play hockey. We were professional speed skaters and have good experience at ice skating. So, to continue sports was good idea. Trying hockey – we fell in love with it. The most important role played was our trip to North America in 1993. It was something!! We were so impressed and we still keep this feeling until today!”
“Two years later the Women’s Ice Hockey finished existing in Ukraine. We were all were very sorry! I and my sister continued to visit hockey training with men amateurs. The training was much too late; we finished at 12 night - but that did not stop us.”
“Now, over 20 years later, when we come back to women ice hockey we have another feelings. We are more conscious and pay more attention to details. We have huge wish to play hockey. At the moment, it is a very hard situation in team because of finance. Panthers has only 1 ice training. But we find a solution. The two of us and some teammates, we start visiting amateur’s men team. It is 2 training a week.”
“Now – when we are in hockey – even if women hockey dies again as in 1995 we will continue our training with men team and have fun of it. We love hockey as it is.”
“I am very happy to see how the other girls are loving hockey in the non-hockey country. When I see how they devote themselves to hockey my heart is exhilarating. I admire them. We have low chances here but we continue to do our work. Trying to find solution here and there.
“Inna, what keeps you going despite all the setbacks?”
My love to hockey. The only thing that can take my mind off any problem is hockey. I love to be in my team. What can I do – to stay in Hockey, go onto the ice, to show progress and my happiness about playing hockey! It is great emotions.”
“What are some of your memories, both good and bad?”
The best memories is trip to America with United Team (Russia, Ukraine, and Latvia) in 1993. And almost the same emotion is also our coming back to women ice hockey last year. Let me not say about bad…The worst thing that happened with me in hockey – is my torn ACL”
“What makes it all worth it?”
When I go on ice I forget about everything. Emotions of my friends – teammates worth it. Teammates are very different by our characters, but we one team!
“What would you like to see happen in Ukraine?”
I wish there enough money for child sports, and for any sport events ever. I wish any have opportunity to do what she wants and what she love.”
It is abundantly clear that a deep love of hockey is common to The Women of The Ukraine. Just as obvious is their ultimate - having a National Team. You have read the stories – you now know that the only thing they need is funding…. they will not get it in The Ukraine…those possibilities have been thoroughly exhausted.
I have never publicly asked for donations. It is also true to say that I shall never do that again. It is not my intent to turn WHL into a fundraising mechanism. But the Women of The Ukraine are, without question, an exception. For after all that you have just read, after all that they have endured, it is not apparent that absolutely nothing – nothing whatsoever – is going to kill their dream. Now it is up to us, the hockey community, to give that dream life.
Please go to www.forwomenshockeyinukraine.org. Please support their dream. Even if you give one dollar, they can buy a puck. Knowing them to the degree that I do, they will cherish it. But please, please, help them.
I thank you with all my heart - Pops.