from Frank Göbel

Ukraine and ice hockey. That was a matter of course for all of us. The blue and yellow jerseys are part of every World Cup. Since February 24, 2022, however, this has moved into the background. Ukraine is fighting for its country every day. A people that does not simply surrender but does everything to defend this country.

Ice hockey is nevertheless an issue in Ukraine. The championship is in full swing. Recently, however, there have also been blackouts here as infrastructures such as power supply were attacked. As a result, ice rinks were truly in the dark.

Don’t worry. This is the opinion of the President of the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation Georgii Zubko. He has an eye on local ice hockey and, more importantly, the next generation.

Admittedly, when the answer came from Kiev for this conversation, this war was even closer to me than ever before. Perspective is so damn important this day. I invite you to this interview, which will certainly give you insights into Ukrainian ice hockey.

Frank: Georgii, thank you very much for taking the time for us. Before we go into your everyday life, what were your tasks as president of the Urkainische Ice Hockey Federation before February 24th?

Georgii: Until February 24, I had classic tasks, as for the president of any hockey federation. This is the organization of all processes related to the four national teams, development and popularization of children’s and youth hockey, organization of national competitions of all age categories.

Frank: How was the UHL structured? Was there a promotion or relegation? How was the dovetailing with the leagues below?

Georgii: Indeed, before the start of the full-scale war, the Ukrainian national championship was structured as follows: the main national competition and the First League (the lower class competition). The First League was introduced in Ukraine for the first time. During the war, against all odds, the national championship was launched and the First League is played as well.

Frank: What about youth work? Ukraine is an ice hockey crazy country. Are there enough ice rinks in the country?

Georgii: Two years ago, the youth league (up to 21 years old) started working in full force. The league was attended by 8 teams competing for the cup of the youth championship of Ukraine. Yes, for a country interested in hockey, there are not enough ice rinks. The last ice arena development program was partially completed more than 10 years ago. Since that time, ice arenas have been created with rare exceptions, but in general there are very few of them. But a year before the start of the war, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, adopted a program to build ice arenas throughout Ukraine. It was planned to build more than 20 ice arenas in each region of Ukraine in 3 years. By the way, Ukraine has 24 regions. We have made good progress in this project, the Ukrainian Hockey Federation was the main driver of this program. Unfortunately, the program is currently suspended and is waiting for the end of the war.

Frank: When we speak here in autumn 2022, we will of course not be able to avoid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Personally, how did you experience February 24?

Georgii: Personally, on February 24, like millions of Ukrainians, I met the war in bed. After that, I came to the office of the Federation and made an official appeal to condemn Russian aggression. We consider this a war crime against our country. The next day, I, like tens of thousands of Ukrainians, arrived at the territorial defense of the city of Kyiv to protect my country.

Frank: We can imagine that ice hockey was the least of your worries. When did you have the feeling again that things were looking up and that the 22/23 season could be realized?

Georgii: I cannot say that hockey is the least of my worries, because we have determined for ourselves the following perception of everything that is happening – every person who before the war had to be responsible for any industry in the country must take this responsibility during the war as well. Accordingly, my team remains responsible for hockey in Ukraine. We respond to the challenges that we have in Ukraine today. In the first days of the war, we evacuated young hockey players with their mothers abroad. After our military repelled the first attacks of the occupiers on Ukraine, we began to restore the ice arenas and return the children home.

Frank: What does your everyday life look like? On the one hand, a war is raging in the east of your country and on the other hand, the ice hockey season is running 22/23. How do you approach this mentally?

Georgii: As of today, we have launched the national championship. Unfortunately, this year we have only 6 teams, the competitions are held in three cities (Kyiv, Kremenchuk and Kalush). Yes, when the air raid alarm sounds, everyone hides in the bomb shelter. It may sound unrealistic, but Ukrainians are a brave nation. Also, the national teams of Ukraine are proceeding according to plan. All 4 teams are training and participating in international competitions. We have a lot of problems, but that’s no excuse for us to give up.

Frank: Bringing a piece of normality back to the people. How did the players react when it became clear that the season would start?

Georgii: To be honest, even in the summer it was difficult for us to understand whether the championship would be held. However, for many people in Ukraine, hockey is a part of life, for some it is a job. That’s why most people in our industry wanted to get back on the ice in one form or another. That is why we made every effort so that hockey gradually returned to the social life of our country.

Frank: We came across the page during our research. Can you tell us something about that?

Georgii: The Ukrainian Hockey Dream Foundation was created in the third month of the war when we understood that our resources were running out and the problem was long-term. Therefore, such a decision was made to create a fund so that non-Ukrainian hockey would survive this challenging time. 

We have received more than $200,000 directly from our partners to date. The International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Olympic Committee of different countries, the NHL, the NHLPA, and all others help us a lot. We received help in evacuating children abroad in the first days of the war, in supporting national teams, and in providing children with equipment. But more assistance is needed now because of too many challenges and problems. We really want to strengthen our work in this direction.

We are currently working on the process of relocating several arenas from Eastern Ukraine to Western Ukraine. On the launch of children’s and youth competitions. Also we are working on increasing the number of hockey schools in those regions where it is possible.

Frank: What can we do to support you with this action?

Georgii: We really appreciate every donation and share of the website. Please donate, support us and help the world know about the Ukrainian Hockey Dream Foundation. 

Frank: What’s next? We bet a lot depends on how the conflict develops over the next few months, right?

Georgii: You are right, we are very much dependent on the developments on the military front. Today we are experiencing not only military attacks, but also strikes on civilian infrastructure, blackouts. But our military gives us confidence in the future, so we will continue to implement our daily tasks.

Frank: Back to the league. The play-offs begin in March. From a purely sporting point of view: Who is your favourite for the title?

Georgii: The national season is in full swing. We are only half way there. The playoffs will begin in March. The greatest passions will begin. Teams prepare and progress. Today, our boys play in European teams. Accordingly, our plan is to finish the national championship. I am very proud of the boys who play, help the country, and contribute. The military invasion of Russia gave us the final understanding that we are a very united citizen of our country.

We are grateful to the world for the support and of course for the support of Ukrainian hockey.

We would like to thank Georgii very much for the interview and a big thank you goes to Mariia Voitko, who made this conversation possible.