Very few elite athletes past or present have set foot in Ukraine since the country was invaded by Russia, but that didn’t stop former Detroit Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek from accepting an invitation to visit the war-torn nation.
Hasek is calling upon the NHL to help Ukraine rebuild its hockey infrastructure following the end of the current conflict.
“I went to support Ukraine and Ukrainian hockey,” Hasek told isport.blesk.cz. “So that it can be played this year and next winter, so that new halls can be built.”
Hasek was invited to the country by the Ukrainian Hockey Federation. Among the hockey people he met with during his stay was his former Buffalo Sabres teammate Alexei Zhitnik. He is manager of the Kharkiv club in the Ukraine League.
No one is playing hockey in the country at the present time, however.
Привіт з Чехії Україні. І особливо тим, хто перебуває в зоні бойових дій. Greetings from the Czech Republic to Ukraine. And especially to those in war zones. Dominik Hašek pic.twitter.com/3nzvL9eoz3
— Dominik Hasek (@hasek_dominik) June 13, 2023
“Half of the stadiums are closed or destroyed,” Hasek said. “Half of the fourteen stadiums are out of order, closed because there was no power, or they are destroyed. Others were taken over by the Russians. Only seven of them work. The worst thing is that they had a program in Ukraine where they wanted to build thirty stadiums in five years.
“They managed to build one stadium, I think in Melitopol. They opened it in December and the war started in February. Two months after that. Today, the Russians have a military warehouse there. So the Ukrainians are wondering if they should bomb it and destroy it, or wait until they drive the Russians out.”
Hasek Takes Clandestine Route To Ukraine
To enter Ukraine, Hasek traveled by car to Poland and then by train, since air travel into the country is not possible. Along with his visit to hockey sites, he also toured some of the areas that have been impacted by the war.
“The places on the outskirts of Kiev where the fiercest fighting took place and where they stopped the Russians,” Hasek listed as one of the areas he visited. “The greatest damage was there, and at the same time they eliminated them there as well.’
“Every city is different. Kharkiv is located in the east thirty, 40 kilometers from the front. As recently as last year, 1.3 million people lived there, then two hundred thousand remained. Dead town. But when the Russians were driven out in September, people began to return.
From Ukraine (to Buffalo) with love. With Alex Z in Borodianka. @NHLdotcom (please) stop supporting Russian war and crimes including the genocide of Ukrainian children. Whenever a Russian citizen step on the ice, it is an advertisement for Russian actions-killing and murdering. pic.twitter.com/tc2ziEGpAZ
— Dominik Hasek (@hasek_dominik) June 6, 2023
“Today there are about 800,000 of them, but life is still not the same as before. There isn’t an open pub or cafe. The children are gone. They don’t go to school, they don’t play sports. There is still a lot of broken things around the city. A lot of damage, an awful lot of destroyed houses. The war is upon you there, you can feel it.”
Being in the midst of a war zone, Hasek also quickly found how much life differs from his daily routine.
“There is a constant threat of air raids,” Hasek said. “They warned me to find out where the shelter was for the night, where to go if the siren sounded. There is also a curfew from 11 in the evening.”
Former Red Wings Goalie Hears Stories From Soldiers
The former Red Wings netminder met with some soldiers who’d been wounded in action, and with families who’d lost loved ones in battle. He was awed by their courage and by how they took such personal loss in stride.
“They take it as a fact, a part of life,” Hasek said. “There were guys from the team, former hockey players. About 10 of us were sitting at the table, and one of them was sent home without an eye from Bachmut. The other had a crippled leg.
“They don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them. They take it so that injuries are part of war. I was surprised how they approach it. They don’t talk about injuries. Here one of the friends falls, someone does not survive, they are injured. Life goes on.”
The Hall of Fame puckstopper has been outspoken in his criticism of the Russians since the invasion began. He doesn’t intend to stop delivering this message, but knows he’s only one voice in a sea of mostly indifference.
“I do what I can,” Hasek said. “I don’t wear rose-colored glasses that my single vote is enough to change something overnight. But I want to draw attention to it, and once it’s over, I’ll do everything to make the NHL pay those billions to Ukraine.”