10 young kayaks smuggled through Poland and Germany are now safe with their families at Canoë Club de Lille

Young Ukrainian athletes licensed in kayak clubs aged 14-18, accompanied by a coach, fled their country. After an endless journey and encountering many obstacles, they have since been welcomed into their families at Canoë Club Lillois.

This is a “caravan of hope,” the Canoe Lillois club decided in less than 24 hours. without any hesitation. Emmanuel Voinet, her boss and his wife, Elodie, responded to the dramatic urgency of the war in Ukraine.

Originally, a very special link between the club and the supplier of boats in Poland. On March 15, as the Russian invasion entered its third week, Polish officials made it clear to them that the influx of refugees was becoming more and more difficult to handle.

This was required by many families of young athletes, it is necessary to organize their exit from Ukraine as soon as possible. Thus clubs from European countries are solicited. Then Lille’s sporting officials respond to SOS distress with insane energy. “We are volunteers, a small structure of 80 members but with my husband and friend we took the club truck and my car and went to pick them up in Dusseldorf GermanyElodie says.

group to support? 10 young kayakers and céistes, ages 14-18, 64-year-old instructor and 1 other adult, herself rowing. They come from clubs in Lviv, Kiev, Zaporizhzhya and Kirovograd region.

Once reunited, the group initially struggles to cross the border. The Ukrainian military is refusing to allow teenagers aged 16 or over to pass. They are supposed to heed the call for “general mobilization”, because men between the ages of 18 and 60 can no longer leave the country. In Lille, Elodie and her husband will struggle to send in all the documents and supporting documents that prove their status as a licensed player, and member of a sports federation.

In Ukraine, young people communicate via Telegram and we prefer using WhatsApp, so we searched for their Instagram profiles and so we kept in touch throughout their journey.

Elodie Voinet, Canoe Lille Club

Finally, Ukrainian kayak makers can take a bus to Warsaw, a 12-hour journey. Then it’s the train to Berlin. But no one speaks Polish. At night, at 2 am, they realize they are not heading in the right direction. Change of train and a new departure for the German capital. There is a transfer station waiting for them. “My husband and I were afraid it would be too complicated for them in Berlin, so he sent an Instagram message to Ronald Rauh, Olympic champion to interveneElodie Voinette explains.

Ronald Rauh still has 15,000 followers on Instagram, well he replied to my husband! He told her without hesitation that he would bring the young men back with something to feed and a little rest. Imagine that the guys at the station when they saw the Olympic champion, they were hallucinating!

Elodie Voinet, Canoe Lille Club

Elodie and her husband decided to go look for refugees themselves in Germany with a friend. The meeting will take place in Dusseldorf, to finally bring them to Lille after nearly 5 hours of travel. “The kids were exhausted when they got to the club, but after this trip it became normalElodie says again.

The young people were distributed in the volunteer families normally. Since the announcement of Operation Caravan of Hope on the club’s social media, the mobilization has been exemplary. The little boy found parents with teens their own age or close, as did the girls. “Emotions were felt by the Ukrainian youth when they arrived, but also by the families.

If these athletes had just escaped the bombing and death scenes in their country, not everyone would be aware of their position yet. When those in charge of Canoë Club Lillois talk to them about attending college or high school, they are surprised.

There is no point in going to school, at the end of the war I will go home, in 3 weeks I will be back!

Young Ukrainian kayaker

Arriving at Lil and even caring for them with much affection, the young men retain their shocks. “They keep getting bomb threats on their phones in different cities of the countryElodie explains. Hosted with her husband Natella, a 56-year-old deputy assistant who made the trip with her daughter Masha and granddaughter Alina, whose father died under Russian attacks.

The priority now is to ensure that all young people are in the administrative system. “It’s a kind of gas stationElodie says, There are a lot of papers to submit. For example, one needs to know the city in which he was born, but it is written on passports only in Cyrillic. Fortunately, Lille Sports Assistant helps us a lot. “

The Lille Club wants to be able to help young people in the long term, offering activities, perhaps for a day in Paris, but also daily life for them and their host families. And then there is the possibility of taking them to the French Championships in Libourne on April 9-10. Another organization expedition!

To help them, a cat on the Internet is open. There is no doubt that the solidarity of the peoples of the North will be demonstrated once again.

In Lille, life slowly recovers for athletes. They, who trained twice a week in Ukraine, are back on the waterways. On the dead arm of Deule, near Euratechnologie or near the castle, there is now a more imposing array of kayaks and a ship. united by a common passion. By slipping on the water, youngsters find their own reflexes and a bit of serenity.

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