Six young Ukrainian athletes proudly wore the green jerseys of their new school as they began studying in Quebec City on Friday morning.
Maksym Shtepa, Artem Kovalenko, Mykyta Staskevych, Ehor Kosenko, Matvi Kulish and Ehor Pyshalko captured the hearts of Canadians at the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in February.
They decided to make Quebec City their temporary home and eventually enrolled at St. Patrick’s High School to be part of their hockey program. The six teenagers recently received special temporary visas allowing them to study and play hockey in Quebec City until it is safe to return home.
Maksym was still basking in the euphoria he got from meeting his president and hero Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Parliament earlier this week, which he said was “a dream.” A photograph of Maksym, Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hangs in one of the school’s classrooms.
Now Maksym is excited to study, play hockey and “start life, just like the guys on our team,” he said, adding that he received a warm welcome from them.
“I’m really happy that we’re starting school and meeting a lot of people,” she said. “It’s what we wanted.”
“I was in [the Vidéotron Centre] last week and the emotions I felt again from being there, it was great,” he said.
But the journey here was not easy: the six Ukrainians received permission to study from the Ministry of Education just a month after their arrival.
Sean Bérubé, the volunteer who helped organize his move, says the ministry was very helpful, but the process took longer than expected because he had to prepare many documents and then wait for approval.
Since the children were not yet authorized to study, they could not play hockey with the school team. Therefore, Bérubé rented ice at Laval University for the boys to practice.
‘Excited’ school community
Now, the St. Patrick’s High School hockey team is more than happy to welcome the talented athletes, and their first game will be Saturday afternoon.
“The team was excited to have outside players,” said Danick Powers, director of the St. Patrick’s hockey program.
“They have great puck control, good stickhandling and are good shooters,” Powers said. “It’s a very European style based on individual capabilities. We’re going to try to add to that some collective decision-making and strategies.”
Kids are already making friends and adding each other on social media, Powers said.
“The school is delighted, the community is delighted, the teachers are happy, everyone is fit and we are very excited to meet them today,” said St. Patrick’s principal Julien Duchamp.
“I think it will be a special occasion to celebrate diversity in the community and within the school.”
For Olivier Hubert-Benoit, host of Mykyta, it has been “a beautiful week.”
“It’s a great day for them to be able to start school like any child should be able to,” he said.