1st day of school for 6 Ukrainian hockey players in Quebec City

Six young Ukrainian athletes proudly donned the green shirts of their new school as they hit the books in Quebec City for the first time 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 its hockey program. Recently, the six teens received special temporary visas allowing them to study and play hockey in Quebec City until it is safe for them to return home.

Maksym was still riding the high he got from meeting his president and hero Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Parliament Hill earlier this week, which he said was “a dream.” A photo of Maksym, Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hangs in one of the school’s classrooms.

three kids in green Saint-Patrick's High School T-shirts walking out of the school.
Maksym Shtepa, Ehor Pyshalko, and Ehor Kosenko walking out of St. Patrick’s High School, where they will be part of the hockey team. Their first game is Saturday afternoon. (Joseph Ryan/CBC)

Now Maksym is excited to study, play hockey and “start out life, same as the guys on our team,” he said, adding that he got a warm welcome from them.

“I’m really happy that we are starting school and are meeting a lot of people,” he said. “It’s what we wanted.”

“I was at [the Vidéotron Centre] last week and the emotions I felt again that I’m there, it was cool,” he said.

But, the journey here wasn’t easy — the six Ukrainians only received authorization to study from the Education Ministry a month after they had arrived.

Sean Bérubé — the volunteer who helped organize their move — says the ministry was very helpful, but the process took longer than expected because he had to prepare a lot of paperwork and then wait for its approval.

Because the boys didn’t yet have approval to study, they couldn’t play hockey with the school team. So, Bérubé rented ice time at Laval University for the boys to practise.

WATCH | Young Ukrainian hockey players meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy:

Young Ukrainian hockey players excited to meet ‘hero’ Zelenskyy

Two Ukrainian peewee hockey players spoke with Radio-Canada’s Louis Blouin ahead of meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ottawa on Friday. Matvii Kulish and Maksym Shtepa moved to Quebec amid Russia’s war on their home country.

School community ‘thrilled’

Now, St. Patrick’s High School hockey team is more than happy to welcome the talented athletes — and their first game is Saturday afternoon.

“The team was excited to have players coming from the outside,” said Danick Powers, director of the hockey program at St. Patrick’s.

“They have great control of the puck, good stickhandling and they’re good shooters,” Powers said. “It’s a very European style based on individual abilities. We’re going to try to add some decision-making to that and collective strategies.” 

The kids are already making friends and adding each other on social media, said Powers.

“The school is thrilled, the community is thrilled, the teachers are happy, everyone is in form and we’re very excited to meet them today,” said St. Patrick’s principal, Julien Duchamp.

“I think it’s going to be a special occasion to celebrate diversity in the community and within the school.”

For Olivier Hubert-Benoit, who is hosting Mykyta, it’s been “a beautiful week.”

“It’s a great day for them to be able to start school just like every kid should be able to,” he said.

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