The journey to the Little League® World Series is all about the moments the participating teams and their communities have along the way. At the 2022 Little League Baseball® Europe and Africa Region Tournament, there were plenty of home runs, web gems, and close games. But the most impactful memories on the field were made by the Little Leaguers® from across the Ukraine who had the opportunity to take to the field and represent their country at a time when they needed them most.
While players around the world were out enjoying a summer of baseball and softball, Little Leagues programs in Ukraine were shut down amidst a war ravaging their home country. Besides impromptu games of catch in the cramped quarters of a shelter, Little Leaguers across Ukraine were forced to keep their gloves stowed away for the entirety of the Little League regular season.
Amidst the darkness, and in search of a chance to provide their country with a sense of hope, the Ukrainian Little Leaguers found solace on the baseball diamond as the Little League International Tournament Committee granted the country the opportunity to enter the Europe and Africa Region Tournament. Leading the team was Hanna Kozhushko, one of three female volunteers coaching the team as the adult males were restricted within Ukraine’s borders to fight in the war.
“It’s important for the team to travel and play in this tournament because the kids need something positive in their lives now,” said Ms. Kozhushko. “They need to see that there is good in the world and that they have support from others.”
While typically held at the Little League European Region Headquarters in Kutno, Poland, the 2022 Europe and Africa Region tournament was relocated to Moergestel, Netherlands, in order to allow the European Region Headquarters the opportunity to welcome a group of softball players and coaches seeking refuge from Ukraine.
“Many of the players did not see each other all season long so now they are happy to spend some time together,” said Ms. Kozushko, whose husband, Kyryl was recognized as the Europe and Africa Region’s Assistant District Administrator Little League International Commendation earlier this summer, “The only possibility for them to play in organized games is if they travel outside of Ukraine.”
In the Europe and Africa Region Tournament, the Ukrainian Little Leaguers represented their country with pride as wide smiles peeked out from beneath their hats during games with teams from Italy and Croatia. Friendships were forged, memories were made, and fun was had by all as the players from Ukraine were able to forget about the troubles plaguing them back home while playing the game they love.
The incredible sense of community and sportsmanship on display at the Region Tournament proves that even in times of peril and distress, Little Leaguers from around the world rally together to ensure every player, coach, and volunteer knows that they are a part of One Team. One Little League. The resilience and courage shown by the team from Ukraine is a shining testament to the healing power of Little League Baseball and Softball, proving that no matter what chaos is unfolding around them, the youth baseball and softball players of Ukraine will always have a home on the Little League field.