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The amazing story of Ukraine’s curling teams—whose athletes fled war to seek refuge and train for the European C-Division Championship—did not end with the stunning silver medal won by the men’s team in Kaunas, Lithuania.

All nine athletes and their determined Estonian coach have made it to the United States, and one of the host sites of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The athletes are staying at the University of Utah campus, and training each day on the ice at the Olympic Oval in Kearns.

All of their needs are being fully covered by the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation and the Community Foundation of Utah.

Ukrainian freestyle skiiers, coaches and family members are also arriving, in a continuation of the Foundation’s commitment to displaced athletes.

Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

“In August 2021, I started training deaf Ukraine curlers, along with Arnis Veidemanis,” said Erkki Lill, coach of the Ukrainian women’s and men’s teams.

“I can now confirm this curling life has been a completely unexpected scenario.”

Lill first got to know the Ukrainians at a deaf curling camp in October in the capital of Kyiv. He spent 30 days in the city with his athletes before Russia launched its attack, and then it was a scramble to get them to Kisakallio, Finland and then on to Lithuania.

“None of this would have happened if I had not been accepted by the leaders and athletes of the Ukraine Curling Federation,” said Lill. “And nothing would happen without supporters. As you know, that list is very long, and I am very grateful to everyone.

“I believe we are still at the beginning of something great.”

Third Jaroslav Schur seems to agree.

“We are proud of the (silver medal) result and will go on to new victories, with the same attitude as in Kaunas,” Schur said.

“The war has given us added motivation, to show that Ukraine is a strong country even in a new sport. The difficulties were only with the fact we didn’t have enough experience, but together with our coach we made it up and showed our best games.”

Two flags in display • Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

Two flags in display • Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian deaf curlers were training in Latvia when Russia attacked Ukraine. Their women’s and men’s teams made it to Canada for the World Deaf Curling Championships in Banff, Alta. where the men won silver, and women captured gold.

Lill’s commitment to his curling athletes is remarkable. Months after planning for the Europeans started, he is still with them in Utah.

“As of late February, I’ve given up one-third of my salary,” said Lill. “But basic needs are covered. I always give my maximum for curling, regardless of the numbers. I’ve been volunteering in Estonia for 17 years.

“That’s why I do what is close to my heart.”

As the war enters its third month, the Ukrainian curlers are in constant communication with family and friends back home.

Lill acknowledges the war had various effects on the players at the European Championships.

“There was a big concern about how to get the athletes healthy, with nutrition and avoiding stress,” Lill said. “Overall the players had additional motivation. There was obviously some added tension that could be seen in the women’s games.”

Coach Lill has a throw • Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

Coach Lill has a throw • Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation for The Curling News

Utah’s commitment to the displaced athletes will extend through the summer.

“At the beginning of the new season, there is a desire to develop through various competitions,” said Lill. “According to the possibilities, of course. The teams are young and need competition.

“None of us know what tomorrow will bring. The fact is that the war could go on for a long time.

“Our job here is to prepare for the new season. Fantastic opportunities have been created for this. We have been welcomed, and we are sincerely grateful.”