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'I play for my country' | Ukrainian teen finds refuge through Findlay soccer

Trojans sophomore Daryna Yurchenko escaped the Russian invasion and now provides hope with her play on the pitch.

FINDLAY, Ohio — The colors blue and yellow are synonymous with Findlay High School. Yet, this fall they symbolize a bit more with the addition of a new Trojan.

"Sometimes, mentally, it's really hard when you see what's going on but I play for my country, that's my home," Yurchenko said.

5,000 miles away from where she grew up, the sophomore forward continues to adjust to the reality of war.

"It's not really fair and you can't really do anything," Yurchenko said. "It's scary, you can be sleeping and get a message at 2 a.m. that someone from your family has died."

"I grieve to think about the people who can't get out. I can't imagine what poor 'D' must think of her friends and family who weren't fortunate enough," said Findlay girls soccer head coach Jon Hayfield. "I can only imagine the burden that must carry."

With just a single backpack, along with her brother and grandmother, Yurchenko escaped the violence from the Russian invasion this past summer and found refuge in the Flag City.

"My first initial reaction was here's a chance for us to welcome a kid into our community and our culture, who may need a lot more than fútbol," Hayfield said.

"The thing is that the people here are really nice, but I'm kind of a closed person. So, it's been hard to make some contact," said Yurchenko.

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That's where the game of soccer comes into play.

A former member of the Ukrainian Youth National team, Yurchenko has used the pitch as a platform to represent and connect.  

"I'm an aggressive player, when someone tries to hurt a girl from my team, they better run," Yurchenko said.

Hayfield added, "It's been a big impact, it's really provided another element that we've missed a little bit in recent years."

Grit, this young woman portrays on and off the field despite still having to adapt to American customs.

"It's more complicated because my English isn't very good and sometimes I don't understand what they're saying," Yurchenko referenced with academics. "Trying to explain to me how to write an essay, I'm going to make too many mistakes with that."

Through the challenges, hope arises. For Yurchenko isn't just a spark for her team, but an entire country.

"I'll use the symbol of Ukraine, the sunflower," Hayfield said. "For this sunflower to grow out of this blight, there's going to be a lot more sunflowers and better days for Ukraine."

Yurchenko tells WTOL that she remains in contact with her Ukrainian family every day and that they're proud she's providing a ray of hope to a nation still battling for freedom.

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