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The UNICEF Football Cup brings together 5,000 children from different backgrounds

Displaced children from the conflict affected areas of eastern Ukraine take part in a football tournament aimed at fostering social cohesion and integration

KYIV, Ukraine, 31 May 2017 – The finals have been played and won, School #5 from Energodar city in Zaporizska oblast won the UNICEF Cup. Although Oleksii’s team did not win, he personally won a lot.

“Participation in the football Cup was a great experience for me. It was very entertaining and interesting. I made new friends, I made a lot of friends especially from Sievierodonetsk. I also loved the guided tours, specifically the tour to the Museum of Football was highly informative,” Oleksii says.

Oleksii on the football field of his local school. - UNICEF Ukraine/2017

Making new friends sounds like an easy undertaking for most, but for Oleksii it has been a very tall order. Three years ago, 11 year old Oleksii and his family, fleeing from the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, moved to the village of Markivka in Luhansk region.

“The shelling went on every morning and evening. We were hearing the explosions always. It was extremely scary,” he recalls.

A new life

Just like 230,000 other children who have since been displaced within Ukraine by the conflict, Oleksii needed to start a new life and to make new friends but integration into the new community has not been easy.

“It took me some time to make new friends. When I learned that our school had a football team, I decided to join it, because I missed football a lot and wanted to play,” the boy says.

Getting ready for future matches. - UNICEF Ukraine/2017

Oleksii had previously played for Zoria Football Club and dreams of becoming as good as his idol Marcelo Vieira, of Real Madrid Football Club. “What I like about him is his speed, dribbling and that he plays defense – just like me.”

The inclusion into the UNICEF Football Club was therefore a great opportunity for him to move one step closer to his dream of playing professional football.

The UNICEF Football Club

Realising the need to help children like Oleksii who have been displaced by the conflict reintegrate into their communities, UNICEF set up a Football tournament that run from April to May 2017. The main aim of the tournament was to promote equality, solidarity, mutual respect, countering bullying and teamwork.

The UNICEF Football Cup is part of the “Sport for Development” programme being implemented with support from the Federal Republic of Germany and KfW. It seeks to provide a platform for young people to play sport and have fun, so they are better able to fully integrate and play an active role in their communities.

Children playing in the final stage of UNICEF Football Cup - UNICEF Ukraine/Berezhnoi/2017

In total, 302 schools from Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions took part in the qualifying rounds of the tournament. This is the first football championship in Ukraine where boys and girls play in one team. A total of eight teams made it to the final round that was organized in Kyiv on 19-21 May 2017.

The German/UNICEF partnership is supporting children and young people who have been living through more than three years of conflict in eastern Ukraine with the purpose of building a more stable and prosperous future for Ukraine.

“These are more than just games, sports provide an opportunity for young people to learn to work together as a team. Sport provides a space for understanding and friendship that is now extremely important for children who have been displaced and left their homes," said UNICEF Representative in Ukraine Giovanna Barberis.

Playing football children learned to respect each other and cooperate. UNICEF Ukraine / Berezhnoi / 2017

And Mr Tobias Schrader, speaking on behalf of the German Ambassador to Ukraine agreed with the UNICEF Representative describing it as an invaluable exercise for team building on as well as off the pitch.

“Germany is very glad to support this extraordinary project. It is a great opportunity for children of various backgrounds and biographies to come together, exchange, become friends. And last but not least, it is fun! I cannot think of a better way to foster values such as friendship, solidarity and social commitment.”

For Oleksii, this is an experience that he will cherish for a long time.

“We cannot always win. But I understand that any defeat is an experience,” he says.



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