“If you take the train, you risk dying”: the terrifying escape from Ukraine of an ice hockey player | Ice Hockey
A Canadian-Israeli ice hockey player has described his harrowing escape from Ukraine, as foreign athletes in Ukraine and Russia face life-threatening decisions about whether to stay or leave.
Eliezer Sherbatov was with his team, HC Mariupol of the Ukrainian Hockey League, in the Donetsk region last week preparing for a match against Kramatorsk when a bomb exploded outside their hotel.
“At 5am, I’m sleeping and I hear: ‘Boom!’ You never hear such a loud sound,” Sherbatov told TSN. “And it starts to shake, everything shakes. So, a few meters away, the war began.
Sherbatov said the team coach called a meeting over breakfast, where he explained: “Guys, the war has started. It’s unfortunate, but I would suggest you stay put as a team. But if you choose to leave, it’s your decision.
Sherbatov said he and the other European-Canadian on the team finally decided to go to the local train station in Druzhkiva. The train to Lviv, however, was two days late.
“We got a call that the trains are getting shot from now on. So the third guy who was supposed to come with us, he said to me, ‘I’m not going because I don’t want to die.’ It’s a 50-50 chance…. That’s what they said. It’s a 50-50 chance, [if] you go on the train, you [may] pass away. Tell me, what would you do? What decision would you make? You stay, you go to an air-raid shelter and you hope someone doesn’t put a grenade inside the air-raid shelter… Or you take the train and you have a one in two chance of surviving.
After talking to his father and putting his trust in God, Sherbatov said, he decided to board the train. He traveled northwest through Kramatorsk and Kharkiv, then west through Kyiv, all of which are under heavy assault by the Russian military.
“Imagine how I felt for those 24 hours. I called that train the death train because every second you think you’re going to get shot,” he said. It’s army everywhere – you just don’t know which one [one].”
After arriving in Lviv, Sherbatov was helped by the Latvian embassy and a team of Israeli volunteers, who he said loaded him with a bus of children and elderly people heading for Poland. “Nobody at the consulate came with us because they had to wait for others,” he said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, being in charge of 17 people when it’s a matter of life and death.”
Coming back to Canada, Sherbatov has reunited with his family. “I met my son for the first time and I thought I would never see him. I thought I would never see my family again,” he said. “My daughter was sleeping… I hugged her in my arms and i just lay there, crying and i lay there.When you think you’re not going to come back, that you’ll never see your parents again, the only thing you want to do right now is be with your family for the rest of your life.
The Ukrainian Hockey League, where Sherbatov played for HC Mariupol, has suspended all operations because of the Russian invasion. The KHL, the largest hockey league outside the NHL in North America, was also affected by the war. The league is dominated by Russian clubs but two non-Russian teams, Jokerit from Finland and Dinamo Riga from Latvia, have abandoned because of the war. The other non-Russian teams in the league – Kunlun (China), Dinamo Minsk (Belarus) and Barys Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) – have yet to comment.
Meanwhile, many prominent Western-born KHL players are leaving or trying to leave Russia. Last week, Finland’s Markus Granlund broke his deal with Salavat Yulaev Ufa just as the playoffs started. Some North Americans are also canceling their contracts, including Shane Prince – who signed with Lugano of the Swiss league on March 1 – Geoff Platt and Nick Shore. KHL players are paid in rubles and the currency is falling; journalist Chris Johnston reported that agents operating in Russia fear for the long-term viability of the league.
KHL goaltender Frans Tuohima of Finland – who beat Russia in the gold medal game at the Winter Olympics less than a month ago – told the Yle Urheilu newspaper that he tried to break his agreement with Neftehimik Nizhnekamsk but was denied permission. “I don’t feel insecure here, but I have my values and for ethical reasons I want to leave. It feels bad to be here,” Tuohimaa said. Sixteen Finnish players and five coaches remain in the KHL.
Meanwhile, Russia’s most famous hockey player, Alexander Ovechkin, has made headlines calling for ‘No more war’, despite forming a pro-Putin social media organization in 2017 and accusing the Ukrainian government to be fascist in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.