Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sport has taken a back seat to survival for athletes in that country.
At just 18 years old, Savva Serdiuk has risen to become one of the most promising young goaltenders in Ukraine’s hockey system despite the conflict.
Playing for Sokil Kyiv in the capital city, Serdiuk has seen the ice as an escape from the destruction and violence that has gripped his country over the past year.
“Hockey is probably one of the best things in my life,” said Serdiuk. “When I come into practices every morning, I feel like I am in a safe place with my friends. I’m feeling better when I am practicing.”
Trapped in an active war zone, national team members like Serdiuk are now getting the opportunity to focus on their sport without the ongoing threat of attack.
Starting in late December, Ukraine’s national U25 squad will travel to play four Canada West schools beginning the University of Saskatchewan as part of the ‘Hockey Can’t Stop Tour.’
Along with providing players the chance to prepare for the upcoming Winter University Games in a safe environment, the tour will serve as a fundraiser for the Canada-Ukraine Foundation and Save Ukrainian Hockey Dream which will support refugees and youth hockey players in the war-torn country.
“With every missile, with every attack, with every challenge we became just stronger,” said Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine executive director and CEO Oleksandra Slatvytska. “We just believe more that we should be alive. If we’re still alive, we’re supposed to help those people who right now are dying.”
Only four arenas are currently operational in Ukraine, with several arenas in Severodonetsk, Druzhkivka, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, Kherson and Melitopol either destroyed or severely damaged.
Part of the money raised through tickets purchased to the games will go towards rebuilding and repairing these rinks.
Following the opening game in Saskatoon against the Huskies on December 30, the Ukrainian squad will visit the University of Calgary Dinos, the University of Alberta Golden Bears and the University of Manitoba Bisons.
“We don’t have electricity sometimes and water and stuff like that,” said Serdiuk. “So, it’s pretty hard to practice in Ukraine. I’m really happy to go to Canada to play against some of the best teams there.”
Currently, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country without special permission.
This exhibition series will give the U25 roster a chance to play together, while also showcasing to the world their courage according to assistant coach and former NHL forward Dimitri Khristich.
“It’s a really good opportunity for us to show Ukraine hockey is still alive, Ukraine hockey has a future,” said Khristich. “That’s what we’re going to do and we’re really glad we have that opportunity.”
Huskies head coach Brandin Cote added it’s a rare opportunity for his players not only to face international competition, but to gain valuable perspective from their hockey peers.
“To have opportunities for our players to talk to the players on that team and really try to get a better understanding of what they went through or what they’re going through from a family level, from a sport level is going to be really beneficial to our players moving forward in their lives,” said Cote. “To really have an appreciation for what they have.”
Tickets for the December 30 game can be purchased through the Huskies’ website, while Canada West will be streaming the games and will be accepting donations as well.
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