Young Ukrainian refugee is ace-ing the tennis competition

Edinburgh Leisure | Monday 7th November 2022 7:30am

A young Ukrainian refugee is ace-ing the tennis competition with support from Edinburgh Leisure

A Ukrainian teenage refugee, Arsenii Opryshko, is ace-ing the tennis competition with support from Edinburgh Leisure.

Every day, all over the world, people leave their own countries in search of a better life. While some choose to leave for work, study or play, others feel that the threat of persecution or conflict means they have no choice but to leave.

We watched in horror earlier this year as families just like our own were forced to flee warn-torn Ukraine with nothing but a suitcase in tow. Since then, more than 9,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Scotland.

Edinburgh Leisure is a charity committed to creating opportunities for people in Edinburgh to keep active and well. Each year our Active Communities programme uses the power of physical activity and sport to support around 10,000 people affected by health conditions, disabilities, inequalities, and poverty to improve their health and well-being. A combination of Edinburgh Leisure's Active Communities programme, city-wide venues and dedicated staff means that we are uniquely placed to make relocated people feel welcome in our capital city.

While physical activity is by no means a magic wand that will make their problems disappear, Edinburgh Leisure believes that getting active can have a hugely positive impact on their lives. Improving health and mental well-being, incorporating some routine into their week in a period of instability, boosting confidence and self-esteem, reducing loneliness and isolation, and helping them to integrate into their new communities are just some of the benefits that being active can bring them.

Since 2016 Edinburgh Leisure has delivered our Relocated People Access programme in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council’s Migration and Refugee Team. Through the project, Edinburgh Leisure gives relocated people access cards, which allows them free use of our facilities for six months while they are settling into their new city. We are now supporting around 2,000 people from countries around the world including Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Syria.

More recently we have also started providing children who are new to the city with free use of our facilities, places on our children’s sports coaching programmes and places on our holiday sports camps over the summer to help them enjoy the active childhood they deserve.

One such child who is benefitting from support is a young teenage Ukrainian refugee, Arsenii Opryshko, who only arrived in Edinburgh in July 2022, but is already being recognised for his tennis skills.  Recently he has beaten other talented junior tennis players by winning the LTA Scotland Tour, Grade 5, Boys U16 event – coming first, which took place in Broughty Ferry and also came second in a similar event at Dalgety Bay on 14 October, and on Sunday, 6 November, he once again came first in the Under 16 Boys at Kelso.

Arsenii Opryshko, 13 years, a displaced refugee from Kharkiv, an eastern region of Ukraine, a region that borders Russia, arrived in Scotland under the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor scheme, along with his parents, Vadym and Olga. They are being hosted by a retired police sergeant, Mark McCool and his husband in Broomhouse, Edinburgh.

Arsenii was a pupil at Gymnasium Number 13, a secondary school in Kharkiv. He holds a national ranking in his chosen sport of tennis and as a talented tennis player undertook three hours of tennis coaching per day.

Realising his tennis talent, Mark McCool, along with the support of Mandy Fairnie, Operations Manager at Edinburgh Leisure’s Craiglockhart Tennis Centre, has managed to secure coaching from various sources, including coaches at the Edinburgh flagship tennis centre, and East of Scotland tennis clubs and through Tennis Scotland. 

Arsenii is currently a member of Hatton Sports Club, which has tennis, padel tennis, squash and racketball facilities and is situated on the A71 near Kirknewton. Caroline Newton, one of the committee members at Hatton, and a fellow Ukrainian host secured free membership of the club, with the cooperation of her fellow committee members.

Mark McCool, host to the family said: “There’s no doubting the tennis talent of this young lad, especially in taking the overall trophy for the Under 16 Boys Singles competition, when he is only 13 years.  Yet it shouldn’t be underestimated the hoops this family have had to through just to get to this stage.

“Like many of their fellow countrymen, none of them have chosen the journey they have all been on, but they are making the best of a bad situation.  I’m so grateful to everyone that has supported the family so far to help progress their son’s talent.  But then again, participating in tennis doesn’t come cheaply.  And while everyone has given of their time freely until now, there are always the hidden costs associated at competing at such a level, including rackets, balls, shoes, entry costs etc.”

The family had left Ukraine to go on their first family holiday in three years to Egypt, a country they had been longing to visit for 10 years. It was a holiday that would combine rest and relaxation with a business opportunity that Vadym was developing and a business meeting with a new partner - not knowing that this would be the same week that Russia would invade Ukraine.

After the skies around their country were closed to all air traffic, the family were stranded in an Egyptian hotel with three suitcases full of summer clothes, sandals, and flip-flops.

The family’s circumstance was very quickly recognised by other guests in the hotel and those guests, all of whom were on holiday, clubbed together and funded one of the German families to take Vadym, Olga and Arsenii home with them to southern Germany.

Before long Vadym, Olga and Arsenii found themselves surrounded by many Ukrainian refugee families who had themselves fled the regions worst hit by the Russian invasion.

In Germany, Vadym and Olga’s personal and professional experience was quickly recognised by the German authorities and Vadym, a fluent English speaker was recruited into a refugee support position by the Mayor’s office in the German village of Bad Schonborn, 80km from the city of Stuttgart.

Olga meanwhile found herself working in, and ultimately running, an already established kitchen that was now feeding a wave of refugees, over and above their normal duties in providing for the existing community.

As Mark McCool explained: “Despite the magnitude of the developing situation, Vadym and Olga’s main desire was to provide as normal a life as possible for their teenage son, which was made possible by the German community who quickly offered Arsenii a place in a school and who they also enrolled in a local tennis programme.”

Unfortunately for the family though, their time in Germany was short-lived.  As Vadym’s family had come to Germany from Egypt, a country seen by the German Government as a safe country, they refused to identify Vadym’s family as a refugee family. The German Government assessed Vadym’s family position as that of a non-EU family entering their country as tourists on a tourist visa which only gave the family a limited period of stay. Their visa application was therefore rejected, and the family were given until 31st May 2022 to leave Germany, although an extension was granted until November, as they had not secured anywhere to go by the initial date. During this time Vadym discovered the Scottish Government’s Super Sponsor scheme and arrived in Scotland on 15th July after Mark McCool and his partner agreed to sponsor the family’s application to come to Edinburgh.

Vadym Opryshko, father to Arsenii said: “As a family, we couldn’t have asked for a more supportive welcome from so many different people in Edinburgh.  Like any parents, we just want the best for our child and for Arsenii, it’s to continue developing his natural tennis ability, despite the challenges we have experienced since leaving our homeland.”

Concluding Mark McCool said: “My partner and I, along with so many other members of the local and tennis community have welcomed this displaced family into our hearts.  Arsenii is one talented individual when it comes to playing tennis, and we couldn’t be prouder of his achievements over the weekend.

“We just hope we can continue to find support to nurture his talent while he is a guest in Scotland.”

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