Hockey Players from Ukraine in Pittsburgh Area, Uncertain When They Will Get Back to Their Families

Kalea Gunderson, Reporter

Ukrainian NAPHL hockey players are uncertain when they will be able to reunite with family in Lviv, Ukraine.

Two Ukrainian friends and teammates are spending their freshman year of high school in Pennsylvania, traveling the country with the Esmark Stars AAA Hockey Team, but their plans to head home to visit family are uncertain as Russia’s attacks on Ukraine continue.

“I think America is better for me, like hockey, school, education, like future,” Vitalli Ulianov said.

Vitalli Ulianov and Vladyslav Bomaziuk are staying with Kyle McLaughlin’s family.

A representative of the North American Prospects Hockey League said the Esmark Starts team is a tier-1 AAA team in the Mid-American District, and one of the oldest AAA programs in the nation.

“It’s been amazing, honestly,” Kyle McLaughlin said. “I really like it, to have some friends to hang out with at all times, and I get to learn their language too.”

Ulianov and Bomaziuk are attending Bishop McCort Catholic High School.

“I’m not going lie, it will be sad to see them go, it really will, but that’s life,” host father, Marc McLaughlin said.

The teens’ families are in Lviv, Ukraine, and safe right now.

“I want to talk to my family in real life, I want to see my little sister, my older sister, my whole family,” Ulianov said.

Flights were booked for Wednesday, but a change to the F-1 visa program is keeping them here to finish out the semester.

As Russia continues to invade their home country, going back now, is uncertain.

“Now there’s no even, ‘Hey we’re going to go home in early June. Now it’s, ‘who knows?’'” Marc McLaughlin said.

“I don’t know about the situation… I know just like, our parents are scared,” Ulianov said.

Ulianov said if his family has to leave Ukraine, they might join the more than one million refugees heading to Poland.

“The parents are very, very positive people, and they are filling them with thoughts of, ‘Hey, we’re close to Poland, and we can get out if we have to, but we want to stay. They are very proud. They’re very patriotic people,’” Marc McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the boys are welcome to stay as long as they want to or need to, but their families are being hit hard financially and are unable to work. Marc McLaughlin has started a fundraiser online to support the teens’ stay. There is a GoFundMe page to support the teens as well.