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Volleyball, Friends and Music: UNICEF Brings Together Schoolchildren from Eastern Ukraine

One year ago, Misha Boiko lost his parents. He continues to live in Sloviansk, a city close to the conflict area, and daily struggles provide little opportunity to think about the future. Misha likes volleyball, and his passion gives him hope one day to become a professional volleyball player. And so, Misha considered UNICEF Volleyball Cup, which was held in Kharkiv in mid-November, as the first step to help him achieve his dream.

Misha Boiko is happy he took part in the UNICEF Volleyball Cup. UNICEF/Aleksandra Gunko/2016

The Cup, organized by UNICEF and financed by the German Federal Government through KfW Development Bank, managed to bring together over 3,500 children from 300 schools across Eastern Ukraine. Boys and girls from Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions were able to play together, make new friends and enjoy the game, while leaving troubles and worries behind.

Making a Name for Oneself

Standing on the playfield in his new orange uniform at Lokomotyv Sport Complex in Kharkiv, Misha Boiko recalls the events of the past three years, “In 2014, the whole city of Sloviansk was devastated by the war – fences, building, even lampposts were covered in shell splinters, there was no electricity, no Internet. I would take my brother to neighbor’s house to charge a mobile phone from a power generator, and during all summer long, we were watching the only movie I had on my phone…probably a hundred times over.” Misha still remembers how his family had to hide from shelling in the house cellar during that fateful summer.

 At this time, Misha’s sister, who is only twenty, takes care of Misha and his younger brother. “After our mother passed away from cancer one year ago, we don’t have any other family left,” says Misha, and adds, “But we deal with it… we have all we need.”

Mykhailo Boiko (centre) during the quarterfinal match in Kharkiv. UNICEF/Aleksandra Gunko/2016

Misha’s coach admits that the boy shows great promise to one day become a great athlete, but without a volleyball team in his hometown he has few opportunities to advance his talent. “UNICEF Volleyball Cup for me is an opportunity to make a name for myself, try myself in a real competition, learn from the guys from other cities, make friends,” says Misha. Then, with a child-like smile he adds, “Yesterday, after the game, we went to the zoo and, for the first time, I saw a lion in real life.”

Although Boiko brothers and the team from Sloviansk School #4 did not make it to the top, the Cup became a highlight for many children, giving them an opportunity play their favorite sport and to make friends from other regions of the country. “We liked guys from Zaporizhia a lot. We added each other on social networks, we supported them and sent them the pictures made during the tournament,” Valia Tarashchenko, 17, recounts. Two years ago, because of the conflict, her family had to leave their hometown of Horlivka and move to government-controlled Sloviansk.

Valia Tarashchenko (second to the right in top row) taking a selfie with new friends after the quaterfinals. UNICEF/Aleksandra Gunko/2016

Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine, believes Valia and her fellow Volleyball Cup participants got the true objective of the Cup right. The sole purpose was not winning, but rather bringing together children from different cities and different backgrounds. “Events like this enable children to take part in a team-building exercise, promote dialogue and communication. It is essential for developing and reinforcing values, which are able to unite children during hard times,” Barberis says.

Volleyball is a Kind Game

School #8 from Rodynske in Donetsk region became the winner of the Cup, winning three to nil against their fellows from the town of Kreminna in Luhansk region. The bronze went to School #2 from the city of Enerhodar, Zaporizhia region, who won three to nil against Slobozhanske Gymnasium #2, which is in Kharkiv region.

For Alena Moroz, 14, who took up volleyball by chance, winning the 4th prize together with her team from Slobozhanske was a very unexpected success. “I am friends with a girl who likes volleyball. I just followed her to a training, then I tried myself and made good progress,” she recalls, “I didn’t even expect to come to such a big tournament. What I like the most about it is that the organizers treat us with respect, like we are adults. I forgot my sneakers today, and UNICEF volunteers helped me right away.”

Alena Moroz from Slobozhanske and her team played in the quarterfinals. UNICEF/Aleksandra Gunko/2016

Another big surprise for Alena was the performance by Ukrainian music band Pianoboy, which played at Lokomotyv Sport Complex after the medal ceremony. “Music is the only thing I like more than volleyball, so I was really happy about the performance,” smiles Alena.

Dmytro Shurov, Pianoboy frontman, admits that it is not always easy to perform for the children from Eastern Ukraine, but he is proud about his regular cooperation with UNICEF. “Children from the east and the displaced children are very special. First, you feel some caution on their side. This happens because hard times provoke distrust. Children continue to live with this feeling of danger. However, by the end of the performance I started feeling that they trust me. I was very aware that not every one of them was my fan and knew lyrics by heart. But I am also sure that they needed this performance,” Shurov explained after the concert and autograph session.

A concert by Pianoboy became the biggest surprise for the participants of the UNICEF Volleyball Cup. UNICEF/Pavel Demchenko/2016

The idea that caution gave way to a friendly environment throughout the Cup is shared by the coach of a team from Sloviansk School #4, Vasyl Yefremov, “Volleyball is a kind game. The players don’t push each other, there is no physical contact. This game nurtures friendships and team spirit, something which is much needed by children today.”



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