Though the details and reasons for a war halfway across the world can be easily lost on children, the current Russian invasion of Ukraine hit much closer to home for members of the Semiahmoo Raven’s U11 A1 team.
The minor hockey squad’s goaltender, Dmytro Makogonsky, is Ukrainian.
His family – which includes a brother and sister, father, Yuriy, and mother, Sasha – had already fled Vladimir Putin’s Russian army once – leaving Ukraine’s Crimea region for Canada in 2014. And his teammates – and teammates’ parents – knew that, with the season winding down, they wanted to show their support.
“As a team, we knew this was affecting him, so we wanted to do something,” team manager Paul McMillan told Peace Arch News, noting that the team had purchased a Ukraine flag, as well as stickers for players to wear on their helmets for the team’s Final Four playoff weekend, which was hosted by the Burnaby Winter Club.
“We wanted to support him through this, because it’s about a lot more than just hockey.”
But what the team didn’t expect was for one of their biggest rivals to get behind the movement, too.
Prior to the four-team playoff tournament – which included the Ridge Meadows Rustlers, and both Burnaby and North Shore Winter Clubs – McMillan had emailed the three other teams to let them know they would be visibly showing support for Ukraine, and that it was because of a teammate, who still has family in the country.
“We wanted to make sure they knew the meaning behind it, and knew it wasn’t just some kind of social-media (stunt) … to know that it was important for us to support our teammate,” he said.
Upon arriving in Canada and settling on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, the Makogonsky family bought Moby Dick restaurant on White Rock’s Marine Drive, which they continue to run.
They still have many family members living in Ukraine, however. Dmytro’s grandparents on his mother’s side are en route to Canada via Romania, while Yuriy’s sister and family spent seven days in a bomb shelter near Kyiv – they couldn’t evacuate because bridges were destroyed – and are now heading to western Ukraine, which, so far, is safer.
Normally, before each game at the Final Four tournament, players line up on their respective blue lines and the Canadian national anthem is played. But last Friday, a day before Semiahmoo was set to play Ridge Meadows, the Ridge Meadows coach approached McMillan with a thought: What if they played the Ukraine anthem, too?
“I thought it was a really cool idea, and it makes it clear that there are important things out there happening – things that are bigger than winning some championship,” McMillan said, adding that members of the Ridge Meadows’ team “were nothing but first class.”
From there, arrangements were made with the tournament hosts to make it happen, and on Saturday, both teams left their respective blue lines and joined together at centre ice and over the arena speakers blared Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy – the official anthem of Ukraine, which translates to English as ‘Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished.’
Makogonsky held a Ukraine flag on the ice, and the Ridge Meadows team all signed a card that said, “I stand with Ukraine.” As well, money was raised, and $1,200 was donated to the Maple Hope Charity that helps wounded soldiers in Ukraine and ships medical supplies to that country’s hospitals.
Watching from the bleachers, Yuriy said that the on-ice gesture was an emotional one.
“It was just great. It was so profoundly important for us to know that Ukraine is not alone, and to see young kids getting to know about Ukraine,” he said. “It brought tears to my eyes seeing the boys paying respect to a country that’s across the globe.”
It wasn’t just Makogonsky who welled up, McMillan confirmed.
“There were a lot of tears,” he said.
The elder Makogonsky said it’s hard to explain the differences between 2014’s invasion of Crimea and the current conflict. However, he noted that in ’14, citizens saw the war coming, but knew it “wasn’t going to be a full-scale war.”
That’s different now.
“Putin has come to kill. Back then, it was a fear. But now there is no room for fear, but there is anger and a desperate willingness to protect our loved ones and our motherland.”
Though it paled in comparison to the discussion of the war in Ukraine, Semiahmoo did end up winning the Final Four championship, McMillan said, while reiterating that it was the former, rather than the latter, that is more likely to be remembered by those in the arena Saturday.
“For 10-year-olds, they don’t quite understand the whole thing, but now, if parents want to have a conversation about it with their kids, they can,” he said.
“It was a small idea and it just kind of snowballed into what it became.”