When Hudson Young’s grandmother and aunty speak to family in Ukraine, they can hear the sounds of the war with Russia in the background.
Young believes his cousins and other relatives in Ukraine are safe, but it has been a worrying time for the Canberra forward’s family since Russia launched the invasion of its European neighbour on February 24.
“Nan has still got family in Ukraine so for her, and Nan’s sister as well, it is tough knowing that there is a war going on over there and they are in danger,” Young said.
“Nan’s sister has spoken with people over there and I think they are safe. They are on the outskirts [of where the fighting is happening] but they said they could hear the war going on.
“It is a terrible time over there for them, but fingers crossed everything settles down in the future.”
The 24-year-old Raider is the only NRL player known to have Ukraine heritage and it is something he is proud of, as his grandparents, Valentina and Terry Martin, encouraged and supported his development.
For Ukraine to be able to play would be a massive boost for them
Valentina, whose maiden name was Kaschan, arrived in Australia with her parents, sister and other family members after World War II and they initially stayed at the Greta Migrant Camp in the Hunter Valley.
The family remained in Greta and Young was born and raised there, along with his five brothers.
“My grandmother moved over here at a young age to escape the war,” Young said. “She came out with her sister and her aunty, and her mum and dad. I think there are a few others as well.
Young waves the wand to gift the Raiders victory
“They stayed at the migrant camp in Greta, where I’m from, and I was just born into footy.”
Young said he and his older brother Jayden often moved between home and their grandparent’s house.
“I grew up living with Nan and it was funny when she was on the phone because we didn’t really know what was going on,” he said. “We used to try and learn a little bit of the language, but I wish I had learned more now.”
While he has never been to Ukraine, Young is aware that rugby league is a growing sport in the eastern European nation, with players in the domestic competition preparing for the 2022 season just days before the Russian invasion.
Ranked No.26 in the IRL World Rankings, Ukraine hope to take their first steps towards the 2025 World Cup in France by sending a team to September’s Under 19s European Championships in Italy.
A fundraising campaign has been launched to assist with the cost of travel and equipment for the team, and Young believes the tournament will provide a glimmer of hope for young Ukraine players, many of whom have been forced to defend their nation.
“For Ukraine to be able to play in that tournament would be a massive boost for them, considering what is going on over there,” Young said.
“Giving kids the opportunity to play rugby league and having something to strive for, like the chance to play in a Word Cup, is going to drive them to keep going.”
Ukraine lost 28-26 to Greece in a qualifying match for the World Cup in England later this year and will begin their RLWC2025 campaign next year, with many of the players in the Under 19s team likely to play in France in three years if they qualify.