It wasn’t a typical Sunday for Trina Gosse, Ontario Provincial Police sergeant in Orillia, in the province of Ontario, Canada.
First of all, Gosse was miles away from her home in Canada.
Secondly, there was street hockey in the central Kyiv on June 25 as a part of Canada’s 150th celebrations in Ukraine, the event bringing together members of Canadian Armed Forces and Ukrainian soldiers, Kyiv’s Sokil Youth Ice Hockey School, Canadian and U.S. embassy workers, and police officers from both Canada and Ukraine.
It was a chance for Ukrainians to experience some typical Canadian things, including a traditional Canadian dish, poutine, which is French fries and cheese curds topped with gravy. There was also a market selling maple syrup, beer and other imported Canadian goods. And with the aid of the latest technology, visitors to the Canada 150th celebration event in Kyiv could also make a virtual reality trip to the most popular Canadian sights, such as the Niagara Falls.
Dozens of Ukrainians and Canadians turned up to watch hockey fans run with sticks in central Khreshchatyk.
“I felt out of sync with having a hockey stick in my hand for the first time in a long time, but I got used to it,” Gosse said, adding that the last time she played hockey was over a year ago. Gosse’s police team played against Canadian Armed Forces. She said that although they weren’t keeping score, “I think the military… they took us to school.”
The reason why she’s here, however, is not hockey.
Gosse is one of the 13-member Canadian police contingent made up of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police Service who traveled to Ukraine as a part of special police mission in Ukraine.
Their task is multidimensional, but they’re focused on training Ukrainian police officers to be certified instructors in police tactics, and developing a course that the Ukrainian police can run on their own. They also work with the European Union Advisory Mission and NGOs to help bring the community and police together.
Sokil Youth Ice Hockey School members were also among those trying their sticks at street hockey. Their coach, Oleksiy Zudin, who’s been playing hockey for 31 years, said the kids enjoyed playing a lot.
“We’re also hoping that hockey will become a leading sport in Ukraine,” Zudin says. So far, this goal remains a distant dream for Ukraine.
After the country gained independence in 1991, many hockey rinks became less used than in Soviet times, when the nation’s clubs starred in the Soviet league. Some have been closed and turned into shopping malls or rented for office space since then.
The historic Sokil Kyiv Youth Ice Hockey School, which first opened its doors to children in 1982 and raised a number of homegrown stars on their home rink at Avangard, including Alexei Zhytnyk, Dmitri Khristich and Nikolai Zherdev, the highest drafted player in Kyiv’s history, now trains some 270 kids. At least 15 of them took part in Street Hockey on Khreshatyk.
It wasn’t just the kids that enjoyed the hockey. Kateryna Belugina, a patrol police officer from Kyiv who played for Ukraine police team, said it was “fantastic.”
“I’m so grateful to the Canadians for organizing this (celebration),” Belugina said. Even though they had only one training session before the game, it was “fun and intense.”
“You don’t even need to go to the gym (to stay fit) after you’ve played hockey,” Belugina said with a smile.
The event also highlighted the Ukrainian team that will represent the country for the first time in the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto. Invictus Games – the Paralympic-style sports event for sick, wounded and injured active duty and veteran service members – were established by Prince Harry back in 2014. Team Ukraine is going to compete with other 16 nations, including Canada, the United States, the UK, Italy, France, Jordan, Iraq, and others.
Taras Kovalik, a coordinator of the Invictus Games Ukraine team, says the tournaments showed “that we are true friends.”
“I think that overall this event is important, and we have to be thankful to Canada, which is actively helping Ukraine in all these years of independence,” Kovalik told the Kyiv Post. “The Invictus Games receive a lot of support from the Canadian Embassy and the Canadian community.”
Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine Roman Waschuk said he was most excited about two things at the event. First is the Canadian versus the U.S. embassy game, and the second is the Canada 150th event’s connection to the first ever Ukrainian Invictus Games team.
“These guys have gone through really horrible injuries, and they powered back, and they’re gonna be showing it on the international stage in Toronto, and I think that’s a really important positive symbol for Ukraine… It’s a country that can take a beating and come back and power through, and I think that’s the kind of country we wanna support,” he said.
Hilton Smee, the commander of the Canadian Police mission in Ukraine, was among those to celebrate all the things Canadian.
“I felt really emotional when we were singing the two anthems… it just represented exactly how we as a contingent feel about working with the Ukrainian police and helping them,” Smee said.