Ukraine’s unique pathway to the European Championships’ C-Division

Iryna Kochyk and Nataliia Menzhega at the LGT World Women's Curling Championship 2023 © WCF / Stephen Fisher

The last World Curling Federation event of the 2022-2023 season – the European Curling Championships C-Division – gets underway on Friday 28 April, at the Dumfries Ice Bowl in Scotland.

Altogether ten women’s and eight men’s teams will take part in the event, representing 16 Member Associations.

No doubt, all will have gone to great lengths to be able to be there, but, with every respect to the others, and for well-known reasons, none of them will have faced up to the challenges that the two teams from Ukraine have encountered in the lead-up to the championships.

In a move that was crucial to Ukraine’s participation in this event and other curling activities, two key Ukrainian Curling Federation officials – Executive Secretary Nataliia Menzhega and Vice-President Iryna Kochyk – moved into the World Curling Federation headquarters in Perth days after Russian troops first stepped onto Ukrainian soil in February 2022.

As Nataliia explains, “When the war started on the 24 February, it became very dangerous where we were living. It was a shocking situation, and we didn’t know what to do. We saw the Russian army was very active and that made us feel very unsafe. I was frightened about what might happen and we both decided to leave the country. We left only with a backpack.”

She continued, “We left Kyiv by train and then changed train to go to Poland. We then went to Croatia because Iryna’s daughter was there already.”

“Kate Caithness wrote us a letter and Beau Welling was in contact, asking us if we could leave Ukraine. We were in personal contact with Kate and Beau, and we knew that there was an apartment at the WCF office in Perth.”

Quickly, Nataliia and Iryna managed to get themselves to Perth, and have been based there ever since.

Nataliia continued, “We did not know how long we would be there – we thought that after the Congress [in September 2022] we could go home, but our President Oleksii Perevezentsev said it was too dangerous. He also said we had to deal with the teams, and we could only do that if we were abroad and mobile.”

Nataliia and Iryna are not the only officials still working on behalf of Ukrainian curling. During the world women’s championship in Sandviken, a special World Curling Academy training course took place, and among the participants was Illia Khokhlov, who works for the Ministry of Sport of Ukraine as head of the Ukraine curling team.

Nataliia explained his challenging route to be able to take part in the training in Sweden.

“He had to take a bus, a plane and a train. He spent three days on the course and another four days travelling.”

Now all the work by Nataliia and Iryna is coming to fruition as the European C-Division approaches.

“We are busy with day-to-day work for the teams,” they say.

As part of their preparation, the teams have been in Scotland for a while.

Nataliia explains, “They are already in Perth and in Kinross supported by local people. It was a project by Perth & Kinross Council to get them organised, supported by local Member of Parliament Pete Wishart as well.”

In addition, the teams have been able to use the facilities at Scotland’s National Curling Academy in Stirling.

Not surprisingly, other members of the curling family have stepped in to help.

For example, with Sweden sharing the same yellow and blue national colours, the Swedish Curling Association has supplied suitable playing uniforms, while suppliers such as Hardline and Balance Plus have provided equipment and shoes.

Now the Ukrainian teams are in Dumfries and are assured of a warm Scottish welcome, while, on the ice, there will be fierce and fair competition from all the other teams, as well as great camaraderie off the ice. Hopefully, it will be an occasion to make fond memories for them.

Engage with the World Curling Federation in the lead-up to the European Curling Championships 2023 C-Division on TikTokTwitterInstagramFacebook and Weibo and be searching the hashtags #curling #ECCC2023

Perth, Scotland

26 April 2023
European Curling Championships C-Division 2023