In the latest episode of Her Huddle, Phoebe Schecter speaks to Ukrainian flag footballer Olha Hariacha about her journey from a war zone to playing flag football at the European Championships in Ireland.
Last Updated: 20/11/23 4:17pm
Back home in Ukraine, Olha Hariacha lives in a world where ‘normal’ is her young daughter taking her cat and her favourite book to the shelter at home if the missile sirens go off while her parents are at Flag Football practice.
Earlier this summer Hariacha’s daughter supported from afar as her mother made the lengthy trip to Ireland to pursue her dream by representing the Ukrainian women’s team in the European Flag Football Championships at the University of Limerick.
“She has been really loving, she’s the best in the world,” Hariacha told Sky Sports NFL’s Her Huddle podcast. “She watched all the games and was really cheering me up. She’s really devoted and tries to be very supportive of me and my husband.
“This (being in Ireland) is not our normal, we have to face the reality in Ukraine. Our normal is there and we have to fight and to be grateful for the help we’re receiving.”
Ukraine were represented by both men’s and women’s teams at the Championships in August amid ongoing conflict in their home country following the Russian invasion on February 24 2022.
Hariacha spoke to Sky Sports on the same day that the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv was shelled, prompting a minute’s silence before her team’s match.
For many it had been something of a routine journey to play the sport they love overseas. For Hariacha and her team-mates it is an entirely different reality that they face.
“We can’t fly from Ukraine directly to any country so we had to cross the border with Poland, and then to Germany where we took the plane here to Dublin and then went by bus to Limerick,” she explains.
“The men had to go from Ukraine to Poland to Germany to Belgium and then to here. It took us two to three days to get here, it was very complicated.
“We know how much it means to be playing with our colours and representing our country, the war is there but we had a unique possibility to come and represent Ukraine and meet so many lovely people.”
Hariacha credits her husband for introducing her to Flag Football, having often tagged along to watch him practise before being inspired to take up the sport herself.
“He had a beautiful dream of playing American Football, he was watching all the movies from his childhood,” she continues.
“He started the American Football team in our city, I would go along to practice and then joined the women’s team. I had this dream to join the women’s national team.
“We get together with our national team practices sometimes once a month, usually it was okay. Now and then the sirens would come on to inform us about a missile attack and we would have to go to the shelter to not get killed.
“We had to stop once for half an hour, once for 45 minutes once for an hour. Being here (in Ireland) is what identifies how much we love Flag Football, it is a sport that is larger than life and about the community.”
Almost two years on, Hariacha has urged the world to continue raising awareness surrounding the events taking place in Ukraine.
“I would like to say the best thanks from the bottom of my heart, without the help of the world our team would not be standing here,” she says. “We should be telling everybody what is happening.
“The Championships has had so so many people from Germany, Czech Republic, France coming to me and saying they are with me. It’s so so much, it’s amazing.”
Listen to more from Phoebe Schecter’s chat with Olha on Her Huddle, as well as all previous episodes on your chosen podcast platform.