Springfield is small reprieve for Ukrainian hockey team during exhibition tour

Ryan Mahan
State Journal-Register
Members of a Ukrainian youth hockey team visiting Springfield look over items in the gift shop during a stop at the  Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Thursday, March 23, 2023.

More than 5,000 miles isn’t enough distance to totally escape the fear of war.  

As nearly 30 Ukrainians sat through the Ghosts of the Library and Lincoln’s Eyes presentations at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday, scenes depicting the American Civil War — accompanied by loud sounds of artillery shells exploding and the corresponding shaking of the seats — briefly reminded them of the hell they temporarily left behind.  

Katerina Manofa, of Vinnytsia, Ukraine, said many noises of everyday life in Springfield can momentarily bring terror. It wasn’t just those recreated sounds of war safely inside the ALPLM, but also the sounds of airplanes flying overhead and even the noise made from wheels on the tiles inside Hibachi Grill Supreme Buffet, following Thursday’s tour.  

Members of a Ukrainian youth hockey team look at a display of Lincoln's cabinet reacting to the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation while visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield Thursday, March 23, 2023.

Manofa was traveling with her son’s youth hockey team on a two-week respite in the United States. She helped serve as an unofficial translator for this reporter. 

These Ukrainian youth hockey players survived war. Then they played in Peoria

There were about 20 players and seven adults who came to Illinois for hockey. The trip was sponsored by Help Heroes Of Ukraine. The group said on Facebook its purpose was so that, “Ukrainian athletes should feel that there is ordinary life without air raid alerts and other threats.” 

Between March 17-19, the Ukrainian team played four games against players from Canada and the United States in Romeoville, a town 40 minutes southwest of Chicago. On Thursday, the team ventured down to Springfield before it headed to Peoria to face the Peoria Jr. Mustangs, a Pee Wee AA hockey team at the Owens Center.  

Five players from Springfield, including four who play for the Jr. Mustangs, participated in the game: Kane Baskett, Griffin Douglas, Cam Hammer, Sully Powers and Pano Soler. Baskett plays for a St. Louis team but joined his Springfield friends for the exhibition game. The Peoria team won 11-7.  

“I think that would be really cool to just escape all of that and not have to worry about being in danger,” 12-year-old Hammer said. 

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian players, coaches and adults will head back home, despite the continuation of a war that began when Russia invaded the country in February 2022. Manofa, who said there are "no safe areas” in Ukraine and that no city has totally escaped the Russian onslaught, said the group does want to return to Ukraine.  

“It’s home,” she said. "There are cities that are safer but still, even in those cities there were bombings in the center of the city. The whole country receives those missile attacks.” 

Robert Maliarenko, 13, of Ukraine, gets a close look at the Tad Lincoln figure Thursday, March 23, 2023, at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Maliarenko was part of a Ukrainian youth hockey team visiting the States.

Most of the Ukrainian players were 12 or 13 years old but some were as young as 7 and as old as 18. 

“I thought it was just very touching for these kids to be able to escape their current reality for a little bit and it was just moving to see people connected by a common love of sport,” Springfield’s Grant Hammer said on Friday after his son Cam scored a goal for the Peoria team. 

“Those kids have been through a lot and I’m just glad they were able to get away from that and play the game that they love. It was really cool to see central Illinois connect with them playing a game they all love.” 

Artem Lyubyi, a 12-year-old Ukrainian forward, started playing hockey just a year ago. Through an interpreter, he said he would like to meet a Ukrainian member of the military.  

“I would thank him,” said Lyubyi, who was part of a seven-car convoy escaping Kupiansk in the Kharkiv Region. Lyubyi’s family survived but four cars hit landmines during the escape with fatal consequences.  

After she interpreted Lyubyi’s words, Manofa added, “The children really understand what is going on and we are thankful to our army and our soldiers.”

Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546,,