Ukrainian teenagers on refugee football programme share predictions for Euros

Ukrainian teenagers on a London-based refugee football programme have shared their excitement and predictions for Euro 2024.

They play weekly as part of charity Bloomsbury Football’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programme, at various locations across the capital.

The free initiative provides football sessions and support to refugees and asylum seekers between the ages of 11 and 18, from countries including Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Some of the players spoke to the PA news agency from a football pitch outside Westway Sports & Fitness Centre in west London to mark World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20.

Boy posing
Nikita said he is excited to watch the Euro 2024 matches (Danielle Desouza/PA)

Fleeing their homes and having to leave behind family members and pets were just some of the ordeals the teenagers had to endure when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in Ukraine on February 24 2022, but they shared how football has helped them settle in the UK.

The teenagers’ surnames have not been included for safeguarding reasons.

Nikita, 13, 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 added it was difficult to leave his home because he still has family who reside there.

Boys playing football
The sessions happen across various London locations (Danielle Desouza/PA)

“My dad, my grandmother, and my dog live in Ukraine and only me and my mum came here,” he said.

He attended his first Bloomsbury Football session in February 2023 and said he enjoys that he can play football a lot at the club and hone his skills on the pitch, usually in his favourite position as a defender/centre-back.

Euro 2024 began on June 14 and the teenager said he is “very excited” to watch the matches.

“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 said.

Boy smiling
Yaroslav fled Ukraine with his mother and younger brother when the full scale invasion happened in Ukraine (Danielle Desouza/PA)

Yaroslav, 12, has been playing as part of the scheme since roughly March 2023.

He fled his home in Kharkiv, in the north-east of Ukraine, with his mother and younger brother in February 2023, and reached London later that month.

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.”

He said the things he enjoys the most about playing football include taking free kicks and trying to score goals.

People running with footballs
The players get to hone their football skills during the sessions (Danielle Desouza/PA)

He will be supporting both Ukraine and England for Euro 2024, adding Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham are his favourite England players.

On his predictions for England, he said: “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, hails from Kyiv and left his city with his mother and sister in April 2022, travelling to Poland before reaching London later that same month.

He told PA: “At first, we drove (from Kyiv) to Krakow and then from there, we went to London on a plane.”

Boy posing with his hands behind his back
George predicts England will make it to the final of Euro 2024 (Danielle Desouza/PA)

He said he enjoys football because his grandfather played the sport, which led to his burgeoning love for it, which has been nurtured since playing with Bloomsbury Football since May 2023.

As for his predictions for the Euros, he 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 hopes his favourite player – Everton’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford – will keep England’s Euro dream alive.

Charlie Hyman, the founder and chief executive officer of Bloomsbury Football, said he decided to set up the charity in 2018 because after spending time coaching football matches, he realised how many people are “priced out” of the sport and wanted to change that.

Man looking at the camera
Charlie Hyman founded Bloomsbury Football in 2018 (Danielle Desouza/PA)

The idea behind having a refugee football programme was to help those arriving in the UK “feel at home”.

When asked if any of the players could potentially play in the Euro one day, the 28-year-old Londoner said: “Yes, some of them might go and be professional footballers, but actually most of them won’t and it’s abut 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.”