NYC’s 75-Year-Old Ukrainian Soccer Club Plays in Brooklyn, with Hearts in Kyiv

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

Adi Talwar

The NY Ukrainians during a sunny afternoon match in late April in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park.

Iurii Vovk spends nights awake in his New Jersey home, following news reports and checking in with relatives as Russian troops bombard his native Ukraine.

Daybreak here means evening in Ukraine, and usually a pause to the worst of the shelling. It also marks the start of Vovk’s work on behalf of his home country. Before a recent job change, 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.

On weekends, Vovk returns to the community that first anchored him to the New York City metro area: the Ukrainian Sports Club, also known by its Ukrainian initial 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 moved from the pitch to the board of directors.

“I couldn’t play any longer, 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 a special function for generations of Ukrainian immigrants in the area. More recently, the club has embraced the changing demographics of New York City. These days, few of the first-team players have Ukrainian roots, but the club maintains its identity through its alumni, members and long-time traditions.

“Even though you’re not from Ukraine, the moment you wear that Ukrainian jersey, the Ukrainian shield is touching your heart and you have to support all the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their freedom,” said first-team manager Francesco Rainieri. “On the field, we have to reflect that fight for freedom as well.”

On June 12, they will play their biggest match in years, a playoff on Randalls Island between the second and third place teams in the Cosmopolitan League’s second division. 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 affiliates fundraising for relief effort in Ukraine while renovating a newly purchased headquarters on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. The club has sent money to the organization Razom, a US-based nonprofit that funds democracy-building projects and cultural-exchange programs in Ukraine. Members, like Vovk, have pitched in through their work and in other personal ways.

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

Adi Talwar

‘Some shoulders near you’

On a sunny Sunday in late April, NY Ukrainians, seeking a top three finish and a chance at promotion, faced off against SC Eintracht on their home field at McCarren Park. Before the match — a 5-1 Ukrainians victory — the two teams linked up at midfield for what has become a weekly display of unity between opponents.

Players paused to shake hands and pose for photos holding blue and yellow Ukraine flags. While opposing clubs have offered their support, the bond among teammates has also grown stronger, said midfielder Roman Semenko.

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