NYC’s 75-year-old Ukrainian football club plays in Brooklyn, with hearts in Kiev

The Ukrainian sports club was founded in 1947 when tens of thousands of Ukrainian migrants settled in New York. Today, the team competes as NY Ukrainians in the historic Cosmopolitan Soccer League and continues to serve as a special function for generations of immigrants.

Adi Talwar

The New York Ukrainians during a sunny afternoon game in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park in late April.

Iurii Vovk spends nights awake at his home in New Jersey, following news stories and contacting relatives as Russian troops bomb his native Ukraine.

Daybreak here in Ukraine means evening, and usually a break from the worst shelling. It also marks the beginning of Vovk’s work on behalf of his homeland. Before recently changing jobs, he worked as a manager at a logistics company that began delivering hundreds of tons of food and humanitarian aid to Ukraine after the Russian military invaded.

Over the weekend, Vovk returns to the community that first anchored him in the New York City metro area: the Ukrainian Sports Club, also known by its Ukrainian initials YCK. Shortly after arriving in 2013, Vovk spotted a sign for the club on an East Village storefront, joined the soccer team and forged a bond with the 75-year-old organization. Two years ago, he transitioned from the field to the board of directors.

“I couldn’t play anymore, but it was too important for me not to help the club,” he said.

The team competes as NY Ukrainians in the historic Cosmopolitan Soccer League and continues to serve as a special function for generations of Ukrainian immigrants to the area. More recently, the club has embraced New York City’s changing demographics. Today, few first-team players have Ukrainian roots, but the club maintains its identity through its alumni, members and long-standing traditions.

“Even if you are not from Ukraine, the moment you wear that Ukrainian jersey, the Ukrainian shield touches your heart and you have to support all Ukrainian people who are fighting for their freedom,” said first team manager Francesco Rainieri. “On the field, we also have to reflect that fight for freedom.”

On June 12, they will play their biggest game in years, a playoff at Randalls Island between the second- and third-place teams in the second division of the Cosmopolitan League. The winner earns promotion to the top flight.

The game is a fitting end to a season of hardship and hope, with the club and its subsidiaries raising money for relief efforts in Ukraine while renovating a newly purchased headquarters on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. The club has sent money to Razom, a US-based non-profit organization that funds democracy-building projects and cultural exchange programs in Ukraine. Members, such as Vovk, have contributed through their work and in other personal ways.

“This is also our war, and this is how we can fight,” said Vovk. “We are not in Ukraine and we cannot take up arms and defend our country, but we can provide humanitarian aid, contribute to our families there.”

Adi Talwar

‘Some shoulders near you’

On a sunny Sunday at the end of April, the New York Ukrainians, looking for a top three finish and a chance at promotion, faced SC Eintracht at their home ground in McCarren Park. Before the match – a 5-1 victory for the Ukrainians – the two teams came together in midfield for what has become a weekly display of unity between opponents.

Players paused to shake hands and pose for photos with blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. While opposing clubs have offered their support, the bond between team-mates has also grown stronger, said midfielder Roman Semenko.

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