When a child plays with something, it is not just a game, but the embodiment of the child’s own life with all joys and fears. Sport is also a game that teaches children to open up, to be themselves, to be real.
Ilya Litovchenko is 8 years old; he has been a participant in a sports project of the Association “Help Ukrainians” for several months now. Ilya had courageously endured many trials of fate despite his young age: in addition to frequent separations from his father, who works abroad, the war in Ukraine brought a new challenge for a young boy – unexpected separation from his hometown Nikolaev, his friends and relatives. March 13, 2022, the date the child and his mother left for Romania, became a turning point in his worldview: everything around him changed (climate, apartment, language, people).
In this stressful situation, many children psychologically shut themselves off in their inner world. Young Ilya, shut down emotionally, so it was often difficult for others to understand when he was happy or sad. His mother did her best to soften the difficulties of their relocation, her several attempts to encourage the kid with different sport activities like workout, swimming, judo did not interest him at all and failed. Without motivation and joy, sports only became a burden.
It was a long and difficult process to find something that would motivate the kid until the family met Julia Yemelyanenko – a social worker at Help Ukrainians Association, which helps the Ukrainian families who run from war to adapt and self-organize. Ilya was offered to try hockey, where Ukrainian and Romanian kids play together. The sports project’s staff and coaches managed to go a little beyond the threshold of Ilya’s inner world. A small miracle happened there – it gave meaning, purpose, energy and joy to the kid.
Accompanied by attentive Ukrainian and Romanian coaches, he is able to believe in himself now, and the desire and motivation to improve every day appeared in his soul.
One of the most difficult contact sports did not frighten the boy, but, on the contrary, gave him an opportunity to direct all his talents, all the strength of his character to overcome difficulties. Ilya has become more open, more resilient and disciplined not only in sports, but also in everyday life: from now on he does not hesitate to show emotions and share with his new Romanian friends his plans for the next training session, and during the training process, on the contrary, he is focused and very purposeful.
He is one of the first to come to training now, because he is filled with a sense of responsibility for a cause that is so important to him. Difficulties make him stronger. Often after his training sessions he says: “I’m not tired, I’m just falling, but I want more!”.
His mother noticed changes in her son: “It was the first time I saw his eyes so sparkling and his enthusiasm for sports, so I sincerely rejoice with him.”
“Thanks to hockey, Ilya became more resilient, focused and more of a team player even outside the rink”, – mother Olga shares with joy. She recalls that before hockey, he most often said “I don’t like” about everything around him, but now he even does his school homework faster – to be on-time for his favorite activity!
Coaches also note the unique strong-willed qualities of the child, who, despite his weak physical state, makes evident progress every day.
Kind coaches, new friends, the support of the Association’s team helped Ilya to find himself and gave him hope and current meaning of life. Thanks to the support of the HIAS organization, the total number of children and adults involved in the sports project today is more than 300 children, 50 adults, and 8 coaches from Romania and Ukraine…
Such wonderful stories motivate the team of Help Ukrainians Association to develop the project further. It is worth seeing the joy in the eyes of one child to have the intention to give it to all the other children around!