At about 3 a.m on February 24, 2022, the phone rang and woke 19-year-old Dmytro Kubrytsky at his home in Kyiv. It was his girlfriend calling from Kherson, 650 kilometres to the south, where Russian missiles were exploding. He woke his mom to tell her the war had started, and a few minutes later he heard the first missiles rain down in Kyiv.
“The first day was really hard,” he says. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I went to the shop to buy some food because you don’t know what to do.”
I meet Kubrytsky in the Hall of Fame room at Rogers Place, where he is taking part in a press conference to promote a tour by Ukraine’s under-25 hockey team. He’s the team’s goalie, just off a 2-0 loss to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The Ukrainian team is on an unlikely tour of four Western Canadian universities, playing in preparation for the upcoming Winter World University Games, which start next week in Lake Placid, N.Y. They are in Edmonton to play the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
I don’t often get choked up at a press conference, but I do when I hear Kubrytsky and his compatriots tell their stories. Kubrytsky spoke of those uncertain early days of the war, as Russian troops advanced on Kyiv, and of the terror of air raid sirens, explosions and rolling blackouts. His mother and sister fled Ukraine for Lithuania early in the war, but are now back in the Ukrainian capital. “Should you tell me two years ago that I’d have a life like this, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Kubrytsky says.