Local Ukrainians Play Soccer While Keeping an Eye on Events in Their Homeland
By RANDY VOGT
The US Men’s National Team was scheduled to play Ukraine in an international friendly in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on March 5 but the State Department put out a warning on travel to Ukraine and the game was moved to Cyprus.
Here in New York, local Ukrainians are playing their favorite sport while keeping a wary eye on their homeland. The Yonkers Ukrainians, sponsored by SUMA Federal Credit Union (www.SUMAfca.org), play their home games at Tibbetts Brook Park and currently have a 2-4-0 record in the Blue Division of the Eastern District Soccer League (EDSL) plus their Reserve Team's home field is at Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers. Men’s team defender Sergiy Fedorov grew up in Yalta on the Black Sea and came to the United States for the first time in 2002.
“A big thanks to our Parks Department for letting our Reserve Team use Saunders,” Sergiy said, “I am very proud that Eastern New York is concerned with what is happening with Ukrainians, who are fighting for their freedom and their rights.”
Another major Ukrainian team in the metropolitan area is New York Ukrainians, playing at McCarron Park in Greenpoint and sporting a 6-3-1 record in Division 2 of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League (CSL). Although the Ukrainian teams play in different leagues, they have played one another in the Yonkers men’s tournament in June.
The coaches of both the Yonkers Ukrainians and New York Ukrainians have much in common as they both were born in Germany, immigrated to the United States decades ago, are very proud of their Ukrainian heritage yet they have very different views on the current situation.
Yonkers Ukrainians coach Nicholas Skirka said, “(Former President) Yanukovych robbed the country, stuffed his pockets with money which he sent to Switzerland. Ukrainians fought Communism for over 70 years and were imprisoned and starved to death going against a tyrant government. We are going from the Soviet Union to a Russian Empire and Ukraine is still not totally free.”
“The Ukrainian country is bankrupt, cannot function economically and not many countries want to deal with us. A trade association with the European Union seemed like a good idea and yet it was not approved. That trade association could act as a bridge between Europe and Russia and I think this collaboration would satisfy everyone’s needs,“ Coach Skirka added. “Ukraine needs to set up a more democratic and pluralistic country if it wants to survive.”
New York Ukrainians coach Steve Kovalenko, an Eastern New York Hall of Famer, struck a more conciliatory tone.
“The situation in Ukraine does not look good,” commented Coach Kovalenko. “I speak both Ukrainian and much Russian, talk to my friends there and you have to see both sides, from those in the Ukrainian-speaking western portion of the country to those who speak Russian in the eastern part of Ukraine. It’s a very difficult situation and there are people trying to divide the country in two which is obviously not a good thing.”
The Ukrainian teams, like much of New York soccer, resume playing outdoor soccer next month which will provide a nice respite from concerns about the volatile situation in their homeland.
Randy Vogt is Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association Director of Public Relations.