The Ukrainian Youth Association is a voluntary, non-profit youth organization that exists in Ukraine, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Germany and the United States. It was founded in 1925 by Mykola Pavlushkov, who was devoted to waging war against the 1917 October Russian Revolution. The Ukrainian American Youth Association (UAYA) has been a vital entity in the life of Ukrainian American communities for nearly 70 years. Among the objectives of the UAYA is to offer Ukrainian youth opportunities for social interpersonal contact and mutual support; and, to stimulate their spiritual, intellectual, social, cultural, educational and physical development. Each of the 28 branches in the United States and those in other countries, have guided Ukrainian youth toward becoming knowledgeable and active members of their Ukrainian and local communities.
Sports participation is one of the greatest resources available for instilling valuable emotional and physical life skills in youth, according to research. Any quality youth sports program is a positive reflection on the entire community and something everyone can be proud of. Soccer is a sport which is quite prevalent in Ukrainian communities worldwide.
In July 2019, a group of teenage soccer players representing Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Clifton, Passaic, Jersey City and Whippany, N.J., Yonkers, N.Y., and Stari Kuty (Ukraine) with their parents and families traveled to Ukraine for a 2nd soccer tour. This tour was aptly named “Ukraine Heritage Soccer Tour.” The mission of the tour was to share our Ukrainian heritage and culture, while fostering friendships through soccer.
The players were of Ukrainian descent and members of the UAYA: Lukas Holowka, Lukian Lawro, Oleksa Lawro, Nathaniel Maksymiw, Gabriel Maksymiw, Daniel Marynevych, Mark Marynevych, Mark Schur, Ruslan Semenko, John Soroka, Markian Tabatchouk, Lukian Tomaszewsky, Wasyl Tsukalyak, Lukian Wernyj and Luka Zachary.
For most of the boys, it was their first trip to Ukraine. They had the opportunity to experience and strengthen our Ukrainian heritage and culture, while making new friendships through competitive soccer matches against local clubs and schools in Ukraine. Our travel group was composed of 44 people.
During the tour, in Kyiv, the team and their families took the opportunity to tour the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Holodomor Museum, the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life in Ukraine and the Klitschko Brothers Museum, to name just a few. Also scheduled were professionally guided tours of Kyiv, Irpin, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi. In Lviv, the group was hosted by Moloda Lemkivshchyna for a tour of historic Lviv.
In keeping with the organizational mission of interpersonal contact and mutual support, the team had the honor of visiting a military rehabilitation hospital just outside of Kyiv for injured soldiers from the current war with Russia in eastern Ukraine. The team presented gifts to the patients – a framed prayer poster and small tokens of our appreciation. The boys also had an opportunity to speak to some of the injured soldiers after they recounted how they were injured. This was particularly emotional for the boys who really grasped what it means to fight for freedom.
As in 2017, the team visited the Caritas Children’s Sanatorium in Berezhany, for whom the team had purchased an outdoor playground. The group was present for the blessing of the playground and spent an interactive afternoon with the children. This was yet another experience that the boys will not soon forget. They witnessed and realized unexpected reactions from the orphans, and understood how interaction and personal contact provides for positive social and cultural life skills.
The team and families were hosted by Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee, the Football Federation of Ukraine and Mykola Movchan, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, for a press conference along with representation from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine prior to the game in Kyiv. After the press conference and exchanging of gifts, individual team members had the opportunity to take photographs with the U-20 World Cup trophy that Ukraine won in June of this year. This generated much excitement.
During the press conference, Michael Tomaszewsky said: “We are especially thankful to our hosts for such a warm welcoming reception that was organized in Ukraine and in Bohorodchany, in particular. It is with great pleasure that we can visit our historical homeland, and most importantly to learn from the local residents and our fellow Ukrainians. I am happy that soccer has brought us together, that we have an opportunity to meet here and make new friends. This visit will remain in our memories for a long time, as these young Ukrainian Americans will forever know where they come from.”
The team competed in five games in Ukraine, winning four. The first match was a 1:4 loss against the Irpin team. After Irpin, the team moved onto wins against Kyiv’s Podil FC 2:0. Next stop was Lviv, where the team played in Arena Lviv and won against the Karpaty Academy team 4:1. The fourth game was a 3:1 win against the sports school team in Bohorodchany, and the fifth game was super exciting with a win in penalty kicks against the Ivano-Frankivsk Sports School.
The coaches included Taras Jaworsky, Michael Maksymiw and Michael A. Tomaszewsky (manager and organizer of the tour).
Clearly, the experience indicated that sports can bridge the physical distance between Ukraine and the Diaspora and is most instrumental in stimulating individual needs within the cultural, educational, social, spiritual and physical parameters of individual development. We are looking forward to another trip in 2021 and perhaps bringing a team from Ukraine soon.