The definition of tragedy is an event that has caused great suffering, destruction, and distress.
14-year-old Misha Shelipov and his family went through all three, as they were forced to flee their home of Dnipro, Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion of the country that began on February 24, 2022.
“At 7:00 a.m. on February 24, I woke up and my grandmother said the war has started and I was shocked, so I packed my clothes and we left,” says Shelipov.
Though this meant Shelipov had to leave his home, it also stripped him of the game he loved – hockey.
With the help of the Prairie Hockey Academy (PHA) in Caronport and their U15 Prep coach Barret Kropf, Shelipov was reunited with his love of hockey, but this time in southern Saskatchewan and safe from the war-torn country.
“We put our hand up and said yes, we want to take this challenge on,” explains Kropf.
Leading up to Russia’s invasion Shelipov was living with his grandmother in Kharkiv, which was where he was for the previous two years playing hockey and was actually practicing the day before the war began.
Once the war began, he and his grandmother fled to Dnipro to meet up with his mom, dad, and two younger sisters and then the family proceeded to a neighbouring village, which is where they stayed for a couple of days before travelling to Poland.
Luckily, while he was in Poland, he was able to practice with a team for about nine months but couldn’t play competitive games but that didn’t faze Shelipov, as he was just happy he got to continue playing the game he loved.
Though they were safe in Poland his dad Dima was committed to getting his son overseas to continue playing hockey.
“One day he said tomorrow you will go to Canada and they really didn’t know what they were saying but said you’re going to Canada,” notes Shelipov.
Dima wasn’t wrong, as the family contacted a hockey agent in Switzerland, which then reached out to Kropf and PHA.
“We had an opening on our roster and we were anticipating maybe January or February as we didn’t know how quickly things would transpire,” says Kropf. “Sure, enough five weeks later they were able to get their visa quickly.”
Shelipov and his mother, Zina, secured their visa through the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program and made the 24-hour journey to Saskatchewan.
The two were picked up in Regina on Dec. 18, 2022, by Kropf and his wife and even though Shelipov just travelled across the world, he still had hockey on his mind.
“After we got into the car, my first question was, coach when are we going to practice? I love hockey!”
Kropf started a GoFundMe page prior to their arrival to help with their travel expenses and to help furnish an apartment they had set up for them.
“Within 48 hours we had their apartment fully furnished. A lot of cool things like that were happening, where the community has dropped off meals and grocery hampers.”
A local business sponsored Shelipov to cover the costs of PHA allowing him to play hockey.
The GoFundMe page is still operational to help out with travel expenses for the rest of their family once they secure a visa and make their way to Caronport.
It’s only been five weeks, and Shelipov’s mother already has two jobs, working as hard as she can to be able to support her family once they are able to come to Canada.
“She just wants to work. They have zero intention of coming here and living off the system. They’re a hard-working family when they were in Ukraine. They want to come here and get re-established,” Kropf says.
After a few weeks of practice, Shelipov suited up in the blue and gold for the first time on Jan. 6, against the Pilot Mound Hockey Academy in Manitoba.
He says that he’s still getting used to the Canadian style, which he mentioned is much different than how the game is played in Ukraine.
“In Canada, it’s more aggressive and in Ukraine, there is more skill. In Ukraine, I get the puck and can skate and pass with no issues. In Canada, I get the puck and all the players want to hit me. I’m not sure what to do.”
Though it’s been an adjustment for Shelipov not only with hockey but leaving his home and living in Canada, his coach says he has been a sparkplug in the lineup.
“He gives our team energy but he also gives everyone at the school and not just the hockey people energy, our teachers are so impressed by him. He’s always happy-go-lucky. That smile is pretty infectious. He is incredibly thankful to be here.”
His happy-go-lucky attitude has led him to become best friends with Kane Domres.
The Domres family had Misha and his mom over for Christmas at their home in Whitewood, SK. He was able to play on their outdoor rink and enjoy a traditional Canadian Christmas feast.
“It’s my first best friend. All my teammates are my best friends but my first was Kane. They’re all so funny,” Shelipov says.
He and his family are very thankful for the opportunity to come to Caronport and have the outpouring of support that they have received.
“I’m just so happy and can’t describe this feeling. I don’t want to return to Ukraine. I miss Ukraine but I don’t want to return.”
Unfortunately, due to the conflicts in Ukraine, Shelipov’s hometown of Dnipro is in shambles after a Russian missile destroyed a 1,700-person apartment building on Jan. 16.
The hope is in the next month Shelipov will be reunited with the rest of his family and put down roots in Caronport and continue playing hockey at PHA.
“I hope he’s a part of PHA in the long run, but until then we’ll just enjoy every moment that we have with him,” adds Krofp.
Shelipov’s favourite hockey player is Connor McDavid who he hopes to emulate and insert some of MacDavid's play into his own game.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022, and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. As of November 2022, four humanitarian flights have touched in Saskatchewan.