Unbalanced logo

Life during wartime

Two years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a little-known sporting story

By Andy PottsPublished 2 months ago 3 min read
Ukraine's hockey players on the attack against Serbia in a World Championship game in April 2022

Two years ago, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. In my usual job as a sports reporter, I don’t normally deal with major global events. Many people better qualified than me have written much about this war. However, a couple of months after the start of the invasion, I spoke to Olexander Peresunko, a hockey player from Ukraine, while he was representing his country at a World Championship Division IB tournament in Poland.

Peresunko was 22 at the time. He had been playing for Donbas Donetsk and living in Kramatorsk. On Feb. 24, 2022, the city was among the first targets for the Russian advance.

“We woke up at five o’clock that morning and we heard the bombs falling on the airport,” he recalled. “That’s close to us. We heard it and my wife and I immediately thought ‘we need to go’.”

Things moved fast. Within half an hour, Peresunko and his wife were in the car along with a couple of team-mates. “We just grabbed a few clothes and we left for Kyiv.”

Unsure of how the invasion was unfolding, they stayed away from major roads. “We couldn’t take a direct route, we tried to kinda sneak around the back roads because we just didn’t know what might happen,” Peresunko added. “We left at six in the morning and we got to Kyiv at six the next day, I drove for 24 hours.” The 700km journey from Kramatorsk to the Ukrainian capital usually takes less than 10 hours.

“It was a hard drive on difficult roads to get to Kyiv. It was definitely an experience, and a relief to get there. We had a little panic just to get away.”

Ukrainian fans cheer for their team in Poland at a World Championship tournament in April 2022.

Although Kyiv was relatively safe compared with Ukraine’s eastern border regions, all thoughts of hockey vanished. The domestic championship was suspended and, not surprisingly, there was no rush to ensure that the country could play international tournaments later that spring.

However, the physical impact of a month off the ice was nothing compared to the mental strain of representing a country at war.

“We came here wanting gold, like every team does, but mentally it’s been hard,” Peresunko added. “We have families in Ukraine, our parents are there, everything. It’s not easy to play here when all our thoughts were at home, but we did what we could.

“When you’re right in the game, out on the ice, you can forget because you’re right in that moment. But between the games, or when we were at our practice camps, we were all thinking about it all the time. Everybody was always on the phone to their families asking what’s going on, are things quiet there or not.”

In the competition, Ukraine finished third out of five teams. There were some highlights – a resounding win over Serbia and a comfortable victory against Estonia. But there were disappointments – a heartbreaking shoot-out loss to Poland and a heavy defeat at the hands of Japan.

That left Peresunko, whose four goals led his team, with mixed feelings. “Just being here wasn’t enough,” he said. “We wanted to win more games here, to hear our national anthem, to see our flags. This is a hard time in Ukraine and we hope that success can motivate our people.”

After the tournament, Peresunko and his team-mates returned to Ukraine. Subsequently, many of them were able to move to other European leagues – Slovakia, in Peresunko’s case. The national championship resumed for the 2022/23 season, with Sokil Kyiv taking the title after a campaign that saw games interrupted by air-raid sirens. And, more recently, there was good news for the national program: earlier in February, Team Ukraine was back in Poland for an Olympic Qualification tournament. Despite being seeded third out of four teams, the Ukrainians forced their way to the top of the group and will contest in the final qualification round in Riga later this year.

Team Ukraine celebrates a goal against Serbia.


About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (1)

Sign in to comment
  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶2 months ago

    Thanks so much for this story Andy! Fascinating read! “In my usual job as a sports reporter, I don’t normally deal with major global events. Many people better qualified than me have written much about this war.” No wonder you write so well… it shows!

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.