Soccer players take to the pitch in Brandon to support war efforts in Ukraine

A friendly soccer game in southwestern Manitoba has raised money for war-torn Ukraine while bringing joy to Ukrainian refugees who recently arrived in Brandon.

Tryzub, Brandon’s Ukrainian-Canadian Association, organized the game between FC Trident and FC Internacional Saturday to create afternoon of fun and respite from the continuing stress of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Tryzub member and game organizer Oleksander Boiko told CBC.

“I’m like so grateful. Even [with the] pretty cold weather … everybody came,” Boiko said.

The idea behind the game was to show the importance of standing with Ukraine during the war, and the power of international friendships.

Two soccer players battle for the ball.
Soccer players battle for the ball in support of Ukrainian refugees in Brandon. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Tryzub wants to build and maintain momentum for future fundraisers to ensure the Westman community continues to support the war efforts in Ukraine and refugees who were forced to flee their homes.

“Today it’s not just Ukraine … [it’s] kind of like international teams,” said Tryzub member Vartan Davtian, who helped plan the soccer game. 

“Soccer players … come in with families,” he said, and together they can “build friendships.”

He appreciates the continued support the community has shown since refugees began arriving in Brandon in February. 

Spectators cheer on a sports team.
The Ukrainian community in Brandon braved cold weather to show their support for Ukraine as it battles Russian invaders. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Keeping hope in the face of an uncertain future

It is hard to tell what the future holds, Davtian says, because there is no stability in Ukraine. That’s why it’s imperative that  Tryzub members do what they can to support the war effort.

The game was a bit of a reprieve for volunteers in Brandon, who have spent most of their free time raising donations for Ukraine or helping new families settle into the community.

Soccer players battle for the ball.
FC Trident and FC Internacional players race for the ball. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“We try to do what we can,” Davtian said. “It still needs full support … because lots of people get tired.”

The situation in Ukraine is difficult because “[the war is] not cooling down” and is instead “heating up,” he said.

Davtian, who has friends and family in Ukraine, worries about what each day will bring.

“You never know like how long it’s gonna take this war,” Davtian said. “If we give up what’s going to happen?”

Newcomers settling in Brandon

Davitian estimates about 45 Ukrainian families have arrived in Brandon since the war began.

Adjusting to life in Canada is a challenge, Davtian says, because the Ukrainian refugees have to build new futures after having their lives disrupted by the Russian invasion.

“You lose all your friends in Ukraine, so you start all new … it’s really hard to start over.”

The slower pace of life can also be a bit of a culture shock, he says. Many newcomers hail from large cities with vibrant downtowns and community areas where people gather.

Two soccer teams dressed in yellow and blue pose for a group photo holding the Canadian and Ukrainian flags.
FC Trident and FC Internacional soccer players pose for a group photo before their game. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Davtian hopes to bring something similar to Brandon, but for now the focus is on supporting the Ukrainian war effort.

“Once the war is over, I believe like we can do something like really creative, and do something like really cool for Brandon as a thanks,” Davtian said.

Lev Lytvynenko and his family were living in the Kyiv region of Ukraine before they fled at the onset of the war.

Lytvynenko says his family saw Manitoba as a land of opportunities and, after arriving in Brandon a couple of weeks ago, they are happy with their decision.

“I find a lot of people everywhere and they’ve very open minds and open hearts for Ukrainians,” Lytvynenko said. 

The family has found an apartment, Lytvynenko has been submitting resumés to find work, and his son recently began kindergarten.

Lytvynenko and his family attended the soccer game because he saw it as a chance to bring the community together and show the power of friendships between different nations.

Three kids sit on the grass looking at a phone.
Masha Gradetska, left, David Chuklinov and Karolina Boyko attend the FC Trident and FC Internacional soccer game. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

It remains imperative to support Ukrainians as they face continued war with Russia, Lytvynenko says. His parents and some friends remain in the besieged country and he worries for their safety.

“It’s very tough,” Lytvynenko said. “I’m afraid every day … they are not safe.”