Barret Kropf has spent his holidays among a pile of seemingly endless paperwork and appointments, but there’s nothing he’d rather be doing.
The General Manager of Prairie Hockey Academy in Caronport, Sask. recently took in a couple of Ukrainian refugees after a friend from Europe informed him about a 14-year-old hockey player living in a Polish refugee camp who wants to relocate to Canada.
“They let us know they were coming on December 8, so we had 10 days to say, ‘Okay, let’s go. Let’s roll up our sleeves and follow along,'” Kropf said Friday between appointments to settle the couple.
Kropf said getting mother Zina and son Misha to Saskatchewan on Dec. 18 was relatively easy thanks to the federal government’s swift pursuit, but Kropf quickly found that was the easy part.
“Without having someone on the ground at that end, it would be almost impossible,” he said. “Honestly, we spent six hours going to every bank in town and saying, ‘Can we set up a bank account?'”
Kropf has coached ice hockey for the past 30 years which has taken him to locations across Europe. When one of his contacts told him that there was a 14-year-old Kharkiv ice hockey player who fled the city when it was bombed last February, he took action.
Wanting to help wherever he could, Kropf organized a GoFundMe to help Misha get to Saskatchewan and offered him a spot on the Prairie Hockey Academy’s U-15 team. Shortly after his plane landed in Regina, Mischa quickly asked his new trainer when he could train.
Kropf said the boy’s endless enthusiasm gave him perspective and helped him see the bigger picture of relocating a family from a dangerous situation.
“We asked him how it is in Poland compared to his school in Ukraine. And his statement to us was: ‘Well, I don’t know if I’ll get tomorrow, so I’m enjoying every day,'” said Kropf. “So of course we will do everything we can to help.”
Kropf said a local friend donated an Edmonton Oilers jersey – Misha’s favorite team – and Misha has rarely been seen without it since he landed. He was able to meet up with his teammates and hit the ice to prepare for the team’s January 6 game, Misha’s first competitive game in almost a year.
“He can’t stop talking about it,” Kropf said.
Kropf hopes Misha and Zina’s story will encourage others to donate to GoFundMe as there is still a lot of legwork and paperwork to be done.
Zina left her one-year-old daughter, her nine-year-old daughter and her husband in the Polish refugee camp while they waited for their papers to be processed.
Each donation would help fund the family’s housing, clothing, transportation and airfare.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Kropf.
Kropf is happy the 14-year-old can forget the air raid sirens and constant bombing raids and enjoy his favorite sport like any other kid, as there is still much more to come from the trip.