Everton will welcome around 2,000 Ukrainians from across Merseyside for Friday’s ‘Match for Peace’ against Dynamo Kyiv.
The Club’s free ticket offer to Ukrainian families, with the help of the six local councils, has been welcomed enthusiastically by refugees rehoused in the city region as a result of the conflict that rages on in their country.
And Olesja Petriv and her family are looking forward to seeing a blaze of blue and yellow as Goodison Park throws open its doors in support of a nation in need.
Olesja, who has played a pivotal role in helping several Ukrainians, including her own family, seek safety and sanctuary in the UK, said: “It’s going to be really cool, especially with the kids.
“They always talk about football and we tried to go to the World Cup play-off game Wales v Ukraine game recently, but couldn’t get tickets, so when we heard about this game at Everton we were so happy.
“I am so excited because this will be an evening when families can get together for an amazing cause.
“Some of the Ukrainian families who will be there are so lost; they have lost loved ones and lost their homes and I don’t know how you can go through all that.
“When you have a stable life, friends, schools, evenings spent with your family in the house you built, and then one day all that is taken away, you realise how amazing it is what the UK did.
“The people of Liverpool and across the country have opened their doors and let Ukrainians become a part of their family and history will never forget them.”
Olesja and her husband, Dmytro, sprang into action immediately after the Russian invasion, driving to mainland Europe to collect Dmytro’s sister Mariia and her children Sviatoslav, 10, and Sofiia, 8, who had hurriedly packed bags and fled the country.
Both Sviatoslav and Sofiia will be mascots for Friday’s game – the first ‘Match for Peace’ ever played in the UK - in what is sure to be an emotional evening for the family.
Olesja, who originally hails from Estonia, has since gone on to help several of her work colleagues from Ukraine find sponsors here in Halton, assisted with their paperwork and visa applications, undertaken home visits with prospective sponsors and helped facilitate the refugees’ safe travel to Halton.
She continues to be a huge support to several families, facilitating with their integration and offering up help with translation, not only to individuals but also to vital services such as the Job Centre, GP surgeries and local schools.
She added: “This war is just so close to us and has affected so many families.
“I still cry when I think about those first few days of the war and what it has all led to.
“Emotionally it’s been so hard because people were calling me and I heard kids screaming as they tried to run and hide from the planes and the bombs.
“Nobody believed this could happen and it shouldn’t be like this, but I don’t see helping those in need as a mission.
“It’s something from the heart and I will do whatever I can to support Ukrainian families, for as long as necessary.”
Laura Stanley, Refugee Resettlement Coordinator with the Halton Supported Housing Team, added: “Olesja is an amazing woman and we’re proud to support her and others in need.
“I’ve worked with refugees in Halton for six years, initially with the Syrian resettlement scheme and now we’ve evolved into the Ukrainian resettlement scheme
“Our main involvement comes initially after arrival or when the sponsorship fails, often through nobody’s fault, and we’d normally help out with schools and GPs, but I’m finding that when I turn up at sponsors’ homes, all that has already been sorted by our amazing sponsors.
“It takes a special kind of person to take a stranger into your house, especially post-Covid when for a long time you weren’t even allowed to have folk in your house.
“For so many people here, having this scheme has brought so many benefits, such as new cultures, new foods and experiences.
“But it’s given Ukrainian families a safe haven and pulling people together is vital.
“Ukrainians in sponsorship placements can be spread far and wide, across the region, so events like the game at Goodison will be amazing because they can make those connections with each other’s families and take them forward, enabling wider community support."
Tickets for Friday’s ‘Match for Peace’ are still available, priced at £15 for adults (18 to 64-year-olds) and £5 for concessions (under-18s and over-65s).
Supporters have the option to add a donation of £1, £5 or £10 at the point of purchase, with the money raised bolstering the total raised for charity through ticket sales and other matchday activities.
Please note, there will be no hospitality available for this game and Hospitality Members will need to purchase tickets through the general admission avenues.
Everton have previously supported the people of the Ukraine by wearing the logo of the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal on shirt sleeves for the final 10 games of the 2021/22 season.
The Club also contributed £250,000 to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal in March - a total matched by Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri and Chairman Bill Kenwright.