Football-mad kids who fled war in Ukraine for life in London share their Euro 2024 excitement

Screengrab taken from PA Video of Nikita, 13, from Kyiv, Ukraine, who is a member of Bloomsbury Football's Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme in London.
-Credit: (Image: Danielle Desouza/PA Wire)

Teenage refugees who fled war-torn Ukraine for the UK have shared their excitement and predictions for Euro 2024. The teenagers take part in weekly games as part of the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme run by Bloomsbury Football charity, held at various locations across the capital.

This free programme offers football sessions and support to refugees and asylum seekers aged between 11 and 18, hailing from countries like Ukraine and Afghanistan. Some of these young players spoke to PA news agency from a football pitch outside Westway Sports & Fitness Centre in west London, to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

The teenagers had to face the harsh reality of leaving their homes, family members, and pets behind when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. However, they expressed how football has helped them settle in the UK.

READ MORE: Mum wants to take child back to war-torn Ukraine from London - but dad takes her to High Court to stop it

Screengrab taken from PA Video of Yaroslav, 12, from Kharkiv, Ukraine, who has been a member of Bloomsbury Football's Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme in London, since March 2023.
Yaroslav, 12, from Kharkiv, Ukraine, has been a member of Bloomsbury Football's Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme since March 2023 -Credit:Danielle Desouza/PA Wire

For safeguarding reasons, the teenagers' surnames have not been disclosed. Nikita, a 13 year old participant, told PA: "I was born and lived all my life in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine. After the war started in my country, I went to Slovakia and lived there for five months and then I wanted to go to London because I really love football and I watch football every day and I asked my mum if we could go there and my mum liked this idea and we went there."

He arrived in London in August 2022 and confessed that it was difficult to leave his home as he still has family living in Ukraine. "My dad, my grandmother, and my dog live in Ukraine and only me and my mum came here," he shared.

He had his first experience with Bloomsbury Football in February 2023, and was delighted to be able to regularly practise and hone his craft on the pitch, usually in his favourite position as a defender/centre-back.

With Euro 2024 kicking off on June 14, the young footie enthusiast expressed major excitement about catching the games. "I am going to watch some of the matches not on time because they are at 2pm when I am at school this time so it's a shame that I can't watch some of the matches," he noted.

Yaroslav, 12, has been involved in the scheme since around March 2023. He had to make a hasty departure from his home in Kharkiv, situated in Ukraine's north-east, accompanied by his mother and younger brother in February 2023, reaching London later that month.

Explaining their move, he told PA: "We came to the UK because the war started between Ukraine and Russia. I played football in Ukraine and I started playing football from four years old."

Yaroslav said he enjoys taking free kicks and attempting scoring goals the most. For Euro 2024, he'll cheer for both Ukraine and England, calling out Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham as his favourite English players.

Speculating about England's future in the tournament, he optimistically stated: "I think we'll qualify to the semi-finals, maybe final. I think the final will be France against England. In the group stage, England will be first."

George, 13, is originally from Kyiv, and embarked on a journey with his mum and sibling from his hometown in April 2022, making their way first to Poland before landing in London. He said: "At first, we drove (from Kyiv) to Krakow and then from there, we went to London on a plane."

The passionate young footballer follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was also a keen football player. George has been flourishing since joining Bloomsbury Football in May 2023, and discussing the Euros, the young enthusiast said: "I think Ukraine are going to go to the quarter-finals and England, probably the final, but I'm not sure if they'll win."

He has high hopes for his football idol, Everton's goalie Jordan Pickford, to help carry England's Euro dreams.

Screengrab taken from PA Video of Charlie Hyman who is the founder of Bloomsbury Football's Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme in London
Charlie Hyman, 28, said he started the refugee programme to give people a sense of 'belonging' -Credit:Danielle Desouza/PA Wire

Charlie Hyman, the founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury Football, explained his drive to set up the charity in 2018. Since witnessing many people being "priced out" of the sport, he knew something had to yield.

His plan for a refugee football programme was aimed at giving newcomers in the UK a sense of belonging.

When quizzed about whether any of their players might make it into a future Euro selection, the 28-year-old Londoner said: "Yes, some of them might go and be professional footballers, but actually most of them won't. It's about giving them the skills to succeed at life and lead a fulfilling career, whatever that might be."

"I think the Euros is a really exciting moment of inspiration and hopefully it encourages a lot of people to go out and play, but what's really important and is often missing is actually the opportunity to do so and that's where Bloomsbury come in. We remove all the barriers so that every child can turn that inspiration into action."

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