Matthew Dubas of The Ukrainian Weekly spoke with individuals from the U.S. youth team that traveled for the Friendship Cup in Ukraine on July 12-15. (See story in our September 24 issue.) Mr. Dubas spoke with the players during their time at the Ukrainian American Youth Association sports camp in Ellenville, N.Y., that was held July 23 through August 5.
Lukian Tomaszewsky, 15, of Yonkers, N.Y., UAYA:
This idea of the tournament was started by my father, Michael, and the team was formed based on recommendations and ability, and it took one month begin building the team. During the dinners we held after each match with the opposing team, we learned a lot about each other through discussion, where we found out that only a few of them danced Ukrainian folk dancing and could perform steps in the “Kolomyika.”
During the tournament in Ivano-Frankivsk, we really noticed the Soviet-style stadiums that we used. These were 5,000-person venues made of concrete. During our visit to the Caritas Berezhany Sanatorium, we played with the children there and got a better understanding of the difficulty of the situation in Ukraine. We presented the children with gifts, soccer balls and backpacks. We even had a game of volleyball with the kids. We exchanged addresses with the children to stay in contact.
We definitely gained a lot from this trip, including the excursions to the local attractions, including the Stepan Bandera Museum. At the Bukovel ski resort, we enjoyed dining at a soccer-themed restaurant and the largest zipline in Ukraine. We even played a scrimmage on a soccer field there. In Lviv, we visited Vysokyi Zamok, the highest point in Lviv.
During our final match of the tour at Arena Lviv, we were stunned to play there against the Karpaty Academy team. The stadium holds 45,000 seats and we were the first American soccer team to play on that field. We felt like we achieved something, even if we ended up losing 0-5.
Our final night, we enjoyed dinner at Kryiivka – an UPA-themed restaurant – where players were recognized for their performance.
My parents and I remained in Ukraine a few more days before returning to the U.S. I was happy to be in my ancestral home country, to see Kyiv and the Maidan and the Nebesna Sotnia (Heavenly Brigade) memorial. From this tour, we learned about Ukraine, its culture, its people and played soccer in front of an international audience. This tour made me appreciate what I have, as I saw others who have less. My family and I also visited Poland, to the village and house where my grandfather was born. I’m looking forward to a return trip to Ukraine, and I think we impressed the locals with our Ukrainian language skills and dance moves. I’ve been invited back to Ukraine in November for a christening, where I will serve as godfather.
Mike Shevchik, 15, Yonkers UAYA:
Lukian [Tomaszewsky] and I were among the first players selected, and we were a good influence on the team. During one of the matches, I scored the lone goal and celebrated by taking off my jersey. This earned me a yellow card, but it was worth it. I apologized to the referee, and the ref congratulated me on the goal.
Gabriel Maksymiuk, 14, of Passaic UAYA:
Life was so different there. I found family there I did not know about near Ternopil. Life on the farm is tough living. Ukraine is not as modern as Tokyo, but still advanced. Highlight food items we found included varenyky and McDonald’s in Lviv.
Nick Zielonka, 15, of Passaic, N.J. UAYA:
To see Ukraine and to experience it in-person was awesome.