Young hockey players who fled war in Ukraine arrive in Quebec for international peewee tournament
A group of boys who fled the war in Ukraine arrived in Quebec City Wednesday for a hockey tournament that brings players together from around the world.
But it's been a long road for them to get here.
The group of players between the ages of 11 and 12 now live scattered across Europe due to the Russian invasion of their country.
They touched down with a bit of jet lag at Montreal-Trudeau airport Wednesday but are united as a team, ready to represent Ukraine at the biggest peewee hockey tournament in the world.
They now have 10 days to get accustomed to the time change and prepare for the 63rd edition of the Tournoi International de Hockey Pee-Wee de Québec.
Twelve-year-old Maksym Kukharenko, whose hometown is Kyiv, has been living in the Czech Republic. He said the trip to Canada was "very long," but that he's excited to play.
"It's very cool that I’m going to this country and this city," he told The Canadian Press.
His teammate, also named Maksym, said the tournament is "a chance for us to show ourselves to other teams in America, in Canada."
The team has never actually played together before and many of them only met for the first time at a training camp in Bucharest, Romania over the weekend.
Coach Evgheniy Pysarenko described the team's presence in Quebec City as "almost a miracle."
"Before it was mission impossible, now it’s 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 that are on the front lines fighting the Russian invasion.
But he hopes they'll leave the tournament with lifelong memories and the belief that "anything is possible."
The boys came without their parents, just their coaches and will live with billet families in Quebec City.
A volunteer from Quebec, Shaun Berube, organized their visas, which he said was extremely complicated since he had to get signatures from both parents for each kid. Some fathers signed consent forms from the battlefield that were sent via courrier.
Berube also paid for their flights, jerseys, and tournament entrance fees out of his own pocket.
He played hockey as a teenager in Ukraine and wanted to give back to the sport and country that meant so much to him.
"To see them smile after what they've gone through, it feels wonderful," he said.
The tournament runs from Feb. 8 to 19. The team from Ukraine plays its first game on Feb. 11.
With files from The Canadian Press