A Ukrainian-born professional soccer player whose family immigrated to Canada when he was a young boy put his playing career on hold to enlist in the Ukrainian army on Friday.
Svyatik Artemenko, 22, had visited his home country, which his family left for Winnipeg when he was two, for a trial with FC Podylla, a professional team in Ukraine. He received an offer to join the club, and he had even signed a contract the day before the start of Russia’s attack against Ukraine.
Thousands of Ukrainians are believed to have enlisted in the country’s army within hours of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order, which has now entered its sixth day. In a statement on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “[a]Anyone who wants to join in the defense of Ukraine, Europe and the world can come and fight alongside Ukrainians against Russian war criminals.”
By the time Zelensky’s post came out, Artemenko was already drafted.
“I came here for football, but football was canceled because of the war, so I want to come back to this football field here and the only way to do that is to end the war,” Artemenko said. in a video interview Saturday with the CBC.
Before signing with FC Podylla, Artemenko had just won a championship with Guelph United FC. As a member of this semi-professional men’s soccer club, he helped the team win the League1 Ontario title in November 2021. In college, the young goaltender was on an Ontario Gryphons soccer team. University of Guelph who finished undefeated in the regular season before winning the conference title.
Artemenko told CBC that when he informed his family and friends of his decision, they were worried. They asked if perhaps he should return to Canada to avoid conflict.
“It wasn’t even a thought in my head to leave or flee the country,” Artemenko told the Canadian Press Agency. “My initial thought always stuck with me to go enlist and fight the war here.”
Artemenko said he tried to enlist for the first time on Friday, a day after the attacks began, even though he did not have a Ukrainian passport. On Saturday, he was approved for military service.
He enrolled while in the city of Khmelnytskyi, but was soon sent to Odessa, the city where he was born. Artemenko told CBC there was a lot more fighting in Odessa.
“It’s something you just have to get used to and adapt to,” he said.
His former team, Guelph United FC, tweeted their support for Artemenko on Monday. In one Publishthe team wrote: “WE ARE WITH OUR NUMBER 1. The players and staff of Guelph United send love and support to one of the incredible members of the Guelph United family, Svyatik Artemenko, and to the people of Ukraine.”
Follow our live blog for updates on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.