Canadian goalkeeper Svyatik Artemenko says he is feeling pretty good but is still affected by what happened in Ukraine after he voluntarily joined the military in February to fight on the front lines against Russia.
The 22-year-old, who was born in the Ukrainian city of Odesa but grew up in Winnipeg, has safely returned to Canada to play the sport he loves after trading in his cleats for combat boots following the invasion.
“I’m not feeling as bad as I thought I would after coming back,” Artemenko said on Thursday after signing a contract with Guelph United F.C. of the semi-professional League1 Ontario.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about soldiers coming back from war and being affected by it. There are some times and some instances when I feel like it is affecting me but I’m doing better than I thought I would be.”
Artemenko went to Ukraine earlier this year and signed his first professional European contract with a club there on Feb. 23. He said he had a positive mindset, he was excited and he was fully focused on his soccer career.
But the next day at 5 a.m., Artemenko said he was awoken by bomb blasts and saw on the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine.
“My first initial thought was to go defend my country,” he said, while noting that he served with the Canadian military reserves while in Winnipeg. “I was born in Ukraine, I grew up there a little bit and all my relatives are still there.”
Artemenko began by doing patrols in his hometown of Odesa and said he was even involved in capturing a Russian spy. Then he went to the Lviv region, about 30 kilometres from the border with Poland, to receive more training.
“We were about to be sent out on our first mission on a Tuesday. Two days before that, our military base there got bombed,” he said.
He was not injured and from there, Artemenko said he was sent back to Odesa to join a volunteer battalion and served on the front lines.
Now after a three-month tour, Artemenko arrived back in Canada last week, focused on soccer.
He said his younger and elderly family members have left the country, while some of his adult male cousins continue the fight. Artemenko added that he does plan on returning to serve.
For now, Guelph United F.C. has its goalkeeper back who helped the team win the league championship last fall, which gave them a berth in the 2022 Canadian Championship tournament.
The tournament features some of the best teams in Canada, with the winner getting a chance to play in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League which features teams from around North America.
Artemenko’s return comes just days before the first tournament match against the HFX Wanderers at home on May 10. A Guelph win would mean a match against Toronto FC in Round 2 of the tournament.
Head coach Keith Mason said while Artemenko is a talented and dedicated soccer player, he’s an even better human being.
“We couldn’t be more proud of him for standing up for the people and freedom of Ukraine, but we are also excited to see him safely back home,” Mason said.
“Svyatik is a great teammate and friend to everyone he meets, whether it’s on the field or off.”
It’s unclear if Artemenko will play in that pivotal game against Halifax but he will be with the team when Guelph takes to the field at Alumni Stadium.
While in Guelph, he said he also plans on spreading awareness of the war in Ukraine, which he calls a situation that is getting worse by the day.
“I’m going to be helping out any way I can, whether that is financial or with equipment,” Artemenko said. “I will be doing everything I can.”