Coach Oleksandr Mihunov has backed Ukraine’s players to continue to “write their own bright history” after they won the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Trophy 2023 title in emphatic style.
Ukraine did not lose a single match on their way to gold medals in Zagreb and Budapest, claiming the Sevens Trophy crown with a perfect 40 points from 40.
That was a feat matched by their male counterparts, albeit the men suffered defeat to Latvia in the Budapest Sevens final having won gold in Croatia three weeks previously.
Both teams will now play in the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship next year and their success provides members of the squads and their supporters with something to cheer at an incredibly difficult time for their country.
“We are very proud of our team and the work they have done. One goal, one team – on and off the field,” Mihunov told World Rugby.
“Today, all the players are scattered all over the world, the players who remained in Ukraine are always at risk and under fire, so it is impossible to talk about a comfortable level of training for the players.
“But the passion for this game, the responsibility of each player and the contribution to the preparation of the national team deserves respect, and for the Ukraine Rugby Union, which always unites for a single result.
“We always have powerful support and a shoulder from Rugby Europe and World Rugby, who do not give [us] a chance to lose hope and stood in solidarity with us from the beginning of this disaster. We are very grateful to them.
“In our sector of development is the female leader Olga Surkova, who is currently in France. She always inspires us to go forward and has cool projects to help the development of women's rugby, [providing] the opportunity for the team to visit leading tournaments in Europe, for coaches to learn and for staff to develop.
“We all work together to develop our game and to this stage of preparation, all possible resources were used, and they brought results.”
It is now more than 500 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and Mihunov admitted that the conflict “poses obstacles” to the team’s ability to train together.
“It is more difficult for us to gather together and work in these conditions, because in reality today it is simply terrible,” Mihunov added.
“We are planning places for holding training sessions in calm regions so that the players are safe, but the rockets are flying... and there is always fear for the lives of the athletes.
“If before we spent only one day to come to the competition, today it is three days with all possible transfers, which increases costs.
“But we are grateful to our armed forces of Ukraine for the fact that we are alive and can be at home and do what we love. We showed this solidarity in the new game uniform, which has the attributes of the uniform of our army.
“Now, performing at competitions, we know that our victory is the voice of our country and a chance to show that we live and fight for our lives until the end. Glory to Ukraine!”
Mihunov and his players celebrated winning the Sevens Trophy with “warm smiles and tears of joy”, but thoughts quickly turned to the challenge they will face next year.
Ukraine will rub shoulders with HSBC SVNS sides France, Ireland, Spain and Great Britain as well as the likes of Poland and Belgium in the Championship.
But Mihunov is confident the team has what it takes to compete. “Participation in the Championship next season is a challenge for our team, and we are ready to take it,” he said.
“A powerful weapon we have is that the girls themselves are ready to take this challenge and write their own bright history. It is our task for the entire state and the [Ukraine Rugby Union] to do everything necessary for the team to prepare for this level. We are already working on this today.
“Our team has great potential, and I am sure that they will be able to compete in the Championship and the place will depend on our work and preparation, namely the situation in the country.”