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Sport offers the only streak of hope

Kyiv, Ukraine June 18“When the shelling started, I was in 4th grade. It took a whole year for my mother to decide that it was time to move. I remember that night like it was yesterday. The shelling was heavy and in the morning mother said we had to move,” says 12 year old Amina.

Amina at the football pitch during the regional games stage in Zaporizhya.

On that fateful morning in 2015, Amina and her mother left their house, friends and everything they owned and uprooted their lives from the village of Mykolaivka in Donestk region in Eastern Ukraine escaping an armed conflict that had broken out in 2014.

Amina tears up and cannot talk anymore. Her mother, Anna - says it is hard for them to talk about that period and that they never talk about it at all. “It is extremely painful to recall how we almost died twice. It is hard for us to talk about how we had to leave behind everything we had – a home, a job and friends so we could stay alive,” she says.

Since the conflict started in eastern Ukraine, there are at least 1.7m people like Anna and her mother who are internally displaced and have had to start new lives elsewhere.

New beginings

he new beginning was not easy. Amina and her mother had to make several attempts. Her mother could not find a job and they moved from one town to the next in search of a job and a new life. At one point, things got very tough that they had to live with their relations as they did not have any money. “There were times when I could not give Amina pocket money for a school lunch, or even a sandwich. Her classmates were buying snacks and she had to wait until she was back home to eat. But she never complained,” Hanna recalls.

Eventually the family settled in the rural side of Zaporizhia region. Amina enrolled in a new school and made new friends. Her enthusiasm for sport made her make friends easily and start a new life. “I have everything I need here. All my old friends moved to different places due to the conflict, I don’t keep in touch with them anymore. But I have made new friends here, we do a lot of things together,” Amina says, finally opening up again.

And the one thing that they enjoy doing together is play football. “I made friends with a girl in the new school. She called me to a football training once, and I loved it,” says Amina who previously enjoyed art.

Healing through football

Amina’s passion for football did not go unnoticed. She was chosen to play for her school in the UNICEF Football Cup tournament. The rules of the tournament were that every team had to have a minimum of 3 girls in-order to qualify to participate. “I was proud of her, I had never encouraged her to do sport before. I guess after that experience she needed something a bit more physical to help her heal,” says her mother.

Amina’s team playing during the regional games stage of UNICEF Football up. Zaporizhya.

The UNICEF Football Cup tournament was meant to help displaced children like Hannah to connect and engage with new friends in their new communities. In total, 302 schools and 5,000 children from Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions took part in the qualifying rounds of the tournament. Of these, 8 schools were from the conflict affected region of Ukraine.

“I believe that the children from Eastern Ukraine need more attention than children from calm regions. That’s why such competitions are now extremely important,” says Anna.

Although Amina’s team did not win, she managed to make a few more friends. “My mum is my star. She is my idol. I would like to be like her one day,” says Amina when asked who she admires most.

About UNICEF Football Cup

UNICEF Football Cup is a part of the programme “Sport for Development” carried out by UNICEF with the support of the Federal Republic of Germany and KfW.

UNICEF Football Cup united 5 thousand boys and girls representing 302 schools from five Ukrainian regions – Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, and government-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The main goal of the Cup is to promote equality, solidarity, mutual respect, counter bullying and involve children into teamwork.

The regional part of the tournament was played from late March-early May. A total of eight teams made it to the final round that was organized in Kyiv on 19-21 May 2017.



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