When 13-year-old Maksym Shtepa left Quebec City in February after playing alongside 17 Ukrainian players in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, he told his family he wanted to return one day.
“It was a perfect trip,” said Maksym, speaking from Romania, where he has lived for the past year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
I was part of a team that captured the hearts of Canadiansparticipating in the tournament and playing in front of thousands at the Vidéotron Center in Quebec City.
Come August, her dream of returning will come true and she will be among six young Ukrainians moving to Quebec City.
“We are all preparing. We are very happy. We talk about it almost every day and we are very excited to see how it is in Canada,” Maksym said.
He says he’s looking forward to reconnecting with the friends he made during the tournament.
He knows he will miss home, but at least he will be surrounded by his family. His mother and his brothers will also move to Quebec. Teammates Artem Kovalenko, Mykyta Staskevych, Ehor Kosenko, Matvi Kulish and Ehor Pyshalko will move alone.
The children’s visas were only confirmed last week, said Sean Bérubé, the volunteer who helped organize their move abroad.
He says that of the six Ukrainians, five still live in the country: two in Dnipro and Odessa and one in kyiv.
“They have been [having] really heavy shelling in Odessa,” Bérubé said. “I’m in touch with his parents, but it’s been hard lately.”
Months ago, Bérubé coordinated the participation of the Ukrainian team in the tournamentvolunteering his time to help the team’s coach, and his former teammate, Yevhenii Pysarenko with Immigration Canada paperwork and visas.
He says the idea for them to stay in Quebec City first came up at the end of the tournament.
“They had asked their host family in Quebec if they could stay and go to school here and play hockey in Quebec. But at that time, because of the visa, they had come. [with] … they couldn’t stay more than a certain period of time,” Bérubé said.
“[I] We had some talks with their parents in Ukraine and their host families here and then we decided to do the best, to bring them back.”
On August 25, he says, the children will arrive in Quebec City and stay with host families while they begin grade 8 at St. Patrick High School in the hockey program.
“I’m very excited,” Bérubé said. “I missed them a lot actually…I look forward to seeing them come back.”
CLOCK | Ukrainian peewee team amazed upon arrival in Quebec City in February:
‘They return home’
Preparation for their move began in April and ramped up through the spring, says Bérubé.
He says that the adults around them have explained to the players that the experience of staying in Quebec City might be different this time, like it was in February. Bérubé compared his experience to living like “an NHL star”.
“We warned them. We told them ‘hey, you’re going to come back. You’re not going to be like a superstar… You have to go back and go to school and be serious,'” Bérubé said with a smile.
“They’re really driven kids. They’re very serious. So they want to come study here and play hockey.”
Once they arrive in Quebec City, Bérubé says the players will likely start working toward their goal of playing professional hockey for the Remparts, the premier youth team they saw play during their visit.
“They want to make their career in Quebec,” Bérubé said.
“They fell in love with Quebec and feel like they are coming home.”