Helping Ukraine Hockey Players – How You Can Get Involved
Scott Murray is the player-coach-GM of Thailand's fabled expat hockey squad, the Flying Farangs. He is also the Vice President of the Siam Hockey League and a lifelong hockey fan and aficionado, remembering attending original six games at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Most of us can just recoil in horror when we see the images splashed across our screens of the devastation going on in the Ukraine. But from his base in Krakow, Poland, Joseph Kolodziej is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Ukrainian border. He is working as a volunteer in Krakow distributing food, clothes and medication.
Joseph is a player agent and the publisher of the Junior Hockey News. He calls Petoskey, Michigan, his home in North America. He first went to Krakow four years ago when he was working as an agent and family advisor to hockey players in the United States. He wanted to make some connections in Europe to better inform players who were interested in playing there. Little did he know, he would fall in love with Krakow, his ancestral home. For the first year, every eight weeks he would go to Krakow for a week, traveling from there to Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine to get a feel of what was available for North American players. He discovered many good players, most of whom were unknown in Western hockey circles.
Joseph aims to help youth aged 8-17, as Ukrainian authorities won’t let any men 18 or over leave the country. Indeed, some of the players that Joseph was scouting are now walking the streets with rifles.
“The war in the Ukraine is political,” Joseph says. “Youth and junior hockey players from the Ukraine have no political stake in the war that is displacing them from their country. These players and their families are losing their homes, their possessions, and some of them are losing their lives fighting, or due to bombing.”
Joseph has been to the Ukraine several times, and knows many Ukrainian families. He says the one thing they should not lose on top of everything else is the ability to play hockey. “They have had everything taken away from them. I don’t want hockey taken away from them too. If they can just get on the ice and escape for a while, maybe it makes things a little bit better for them for a while.”
To make this happen he is seeking help from junior hockey teams and leagues, parents and players. He is not trying to make a political statement in any way, but to ensure that these displaced young players can continue playing while they wait in Poland to be able to safely return to their homes in Ukraine.
None of these players brought their hockey equipment when they were forced to flee for shelter in Poland. Most of them are arriving by train with little or no clothes.
Joseph is looking for people to collect new and used equipment, or money to buy equipment and ice time for these players and teams who have been displaced due to the war.
All equipment collected in the United States and Canada will be put into a container and shipped to Poland. The equipment will be distributed in Krakow to all Ukrainian youth and junior players completely free of charge without having to return any of it.
Joseph’s goal is to collect 200 sets of equipment, from skates to gloves, helmets, and all other items needed to play. While that likely will not be enough, it will be something. The Junior Hockey News will be donating 200 jerseys and 200 pairs of socks.
Profits generated from this year’s College Commitment Showcase will be used to pay for a container shipped out of Detroit to Poland in June. The cost of the 40-foot container plus shipping, which will take about a month to reach Krakow, is close to US$7,000.
The container will arrive in Gdansk, Poland, in July and then go to Krakow once it has cleared customs. A distribution center in Krakow is being arranged for players to come, get fitted and get prepared to get back on the ice. If players cannot make it to Krakow, a distribution network among youth hockey clubs is being created to reach all cities and players in need.
A Go Fund Me page will be set up for those who cannot donate equipment. These funds will be used to purchase ice time for teams to practice and if possible have a season until they can return home.
If you, your team, your league or association would like to help these children, please email Joseph (firstname.lastname@example.org) and he will explain how you best can help.