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UKRAINE CALLS ON HERITAGE PLAYERS TO COUNTER INVASION IMPACT

Ukraine FRL president Artur Martyrosian with Nathan Cleary in Manchester during the World Cup.

 

Ukraine Rugby League president Artur Martyrosian has appealed for players with Ukraine heritage to represent the war-torn nation in this year’s European Championship and 2025 World Cup qualifying tournament.

Speaking on the 12-month anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Martyrosian said players had now become soldiers and their priority was to continue defending the country.

Ukraine competed at last year’s European Under 19s Championship in Italy after receiving assistance from the government and the European Rugby League to help cover costs and organise a playing kit.

However, the situation had now worsened and Ukraine now needs to call on heritage players for the first time.

“We have a more difficult situation than with the Under 19s team because with that team, some of the players were too young to go into the army,” Martyrosian said.

“With the senior team, most of our players are now soldiers in the Ukrainian Army, so this year we have just one option to help with our preparation for the European Championship Group B, which will be held in October, and that is to invite experienced players with Ukrainian heritage.

“We can’t play in the European B Championship without players from other countries because unfortunately one year ago began this war and our players must be ready to resist the invasion.

“To continue our growth the only option we have is this invitation to heritage players in Australia and England.”

Canberra Raiders forward Hudson Young and Penrith Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary are the best known players with Ukraine heritage, while Cleary’s brother, Jett, is in the Panthers SG Ball team.

 

Raiders forward Hudson Young has Ukraine heritage.

 

A photo of Martyrosian with Cleary in Manchester during the World Cup was one of the International Rugby League’s most popular Instagram posts last year.

The Ukraine FRL hope to auction a polo shirt signed by Cleary to raise funds for the squad and the game in Ukraine.

“We know about Hudson Young, we know about Nathan and his younger brother Jett, and other players who aren’t such big names in the rugby league world,” Martyrosian said.

“We have at least seven players in Australia, but I think in the next few months the list will get bigger. Our main priority is to find funds for trips for these players, especially those in Australia because it is more expensive.

“We ask not only rugby league players but rugby union players too because our situation is really very difficult.”

 

Nathan Cleary and brother Jett have Ukraine heritage (NRL Photos)

 

Ukraine is drawn to play in Greece and Norway in the European Championship Group B, with the tournament a stepping-stone to qualification for France 2025.

Both matches will be played away due to the ongoing war, which has now entered a second year, but Martyrosian said he hoped there would be some domestic matches played in 2023.

“We began rugby league in Ukraine in 2006 so this will be our 17th year and all this time we have built a structure from children in school teams, after that juniors, youth and the national team,” he said.

“Our main aim is to give more experience for our domestic players, so we didn’t invite players from other countries with Ukrainian heritage.

«That has not always been good for our international results, but it was good for our growth and our domestic championships.”

 

Ukraine in action against France.

 

Ukraine’s Super League Project, in which each domestic team developed a link with an English club, has been established, while eight player have enjoyed stints with Milford Marlins in England.

The aim this year is to play two rounds of Nines, along with a Nines Cup.

“We are now searching all options to find some funds to organise this competition we are planning to hold in the western side of our country,” Martyrosian said. “Maybe if the situation this year is better, we will hold the final in Kyiv.”

Martyrosian thanked European Rugby League general manager David Butler for his support in raising funds for the Under 19s team and organising a playing kit from Canterbury.

“A big part of members of our federation – players, coaches, referees, managers – are now in the Ukraine Army or Territorial Defence Force, working like volunteers,” he said.

“We need to defend our freedom because without this we don’t have a normal life with our families, and we can’t speak about anything else – rugby league too.”

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