Sports School in Hennef What are the U17 soccer players from Ukraine doing today?
Hennef · Last March, 26 U17 soccer players from Kiev were among the war refugees from Ukraine. At that time, they were accommodated together in the Hennef sports school. We listened to how they live today.
As a driver for the initiative "Meckenheim hilft", Stefan Rönz set off for Ukraine about a year ago. He came back with players from two U17 soccer teams from cooperation clubs of Dynamo Kiev. After a diversion via various host families, the 26 boys were accommodated at the sports school in Hennef. But now they are scattered again - even if most of them still live for soccer.
"I had soccer in my heart even before the war, but now I hardly have any other option than sport," says Denys from Kiev. He originally came to Germany with his mother. While she has since gone back home to his little brother and father, Denys is trying to find his feet here in Hennef. "I'm learning German and as long as the war is not over, I can't imagine going back home," he says. Because once he is 18 years old, he is not allowed to leave his country, he says. "Any man fit for military service is not allowed to leave the country, that would be desertion."
Of all the players in Hennef's Ukraine team, Artem now lives the furthest away in Düren. "I now play for Alemannia Aachen and live together with an Albanian in a small flat," he says. He had already been able to earn money with the sport during his time in the Ukraine. But he has not yet reached that stage at Alemannia Aachen. At the moment, he is in the U19 team and plays without a salary, says Artem. But even if soccer offers him a chance to make a living with it one day, Artem stresses: "For me, money is not the main thing, soccer is the story of my life and I love what I do."
Eight months at the sports school
The two spent a total of eight months together with the other Ukrainian soccer players at the Hennef Sports School, sharing a room in twos or threes. In the course of the months, more soccer players joined them, others returned to Ukraine because things had quietened down in their home region in the meantime.
At the end of November last year, their stay together at the sports school came to an end. "The sports school is like a hotel and had no more room for those guests who normally come here," says Stephanie May from the youth welfare office in Hennef.
The dream of a Ukrainian youth team competing against other teams in German leagues had been dashed before. The team has now spread out not only to different places and host families, but also to different sports clubs. "In normal soccer clubs, the Ukrainian players are forced to learn German, which they didn't have the need to do among themselves," says May.
Their sporting development was significantly influenced by Stefan Rönz from Meckenheim, the man who also brought the boys from the war zone to Germany. During their eight months together at the sports school, the young soccer players spent almost every day with him. "I made sure we weren't always in training, but we went climbing together, watched baseball games of the Bonn Capitals or even Bundesliga games," says the soccer coach.
Different plans for the future
Of course, there were also many conversations about the worries of the families left behind. But most of the teenagers were grateful for the distraction. So the focus was always on the sport. Rönz also organised friendly matches with Bundesliga clubs: "The boys wanted to use this platform to offer themselves for these clubs." This was successful: "Some of them are now playing in higher-class clubs," says Rönz. Even though the athletes no longer all live in Hennef, he is still in contact with some of them.
After such a long time in Germany, the boys' plans for the future vary, May reports. Not all of them wanted to return home as soon as possible. Some of them have already said they could imagine living in Germany, and one of them is specifically aiming for a voluntary social year, says May.
Ten of the boys are now living in youth welfare facilities, four of them in the Hennef facility Sankt Ansgar. According to Stephanie May, six of the young athletes stayed with host families. They found each other through contact with soccer clubs in the region. "We really had a lot of trouble finding free places," says the youth welfare officer. That is why she is very happy that it was possible to find new accommodation for all the remaining 22 Ukrainian youths. She emphasises that the accommodation in the sports school was only intended as a temporary solution from the beginning.
(Original text: Scarlet Schmitz / Translation: Mareike Graepel)