HC Motor back in European action under special circumstances

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EHF / Björn Pazen

Düsseldorf hosts a very special premiere on Tuesday, the Castello Arena in Düsseldorf is the venue for its first match in the European League Men – and it even includes a German club, who are not at home is not the hosts.

Two-time EHF Cup winners Füchse Berlin start the season away, but in Germany. Their hosts are HC Motor from the Ukrainian city of Zaporozhye.

Only weeks after the start of the war on their country, many players of the Ukrainian national team arrived in Germany, were invited and hosted in Großwallstadt. And in the following weeks, a solidarity project was started in Germany to support Ukrainian handball, to give HC Motor the chance to continue playing.

The clubs of the second German Bundesliga division agreed to include HC Motor in their league, which originally was supposed to be played with 19 teams. Integrating HC Motor means that no team has a match-free round, and more important for the team of head coach Gintaras Savukynas (parallel national team coach of his homeland Lithuania), they could compete regularly at a strong level. At the end of the season, the results of HC Motor will be deleted from the table, therefore they have no impact on promotion and relegation.

And the city of Düsseldorf took care of the players and the club staff. The line-up changed, as almost all players from abroad left HC Motor, some players from other Ukrainian clubs arrived – and in the end, HC Motor looks a lot like the Ukrainian national team.

Having almost all players together was the base for the first success in the EHF EURO 2024 qualification as Ukraine beat Faroe Islands. Also in this competition, Ukraine play their home matches on German ground.

And HC Motor started to settle in the new environment: The players and their families live in apartments, which were organised by the city of Düsseldorf. Every evening after the training or the matches, all of them are in constant contact with their families in Ukraine, mainly in the war-hit city of Zaporozhye.

On Sunday, Motor took their second victory in the second German division, beating Wölfe Würzburg 32:28, a boost for the confidence prior to their first group match in the European League on Tuesday at 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV. HC Motor had been a constant participant in the EHF Champions League since the 2013/14 season, and four times they made it to the knockout stages.

“Our sporting goal is to do well in the European League. And the season in the second Bundesliga will help us a lot for that,” says Savukynas.

“This experience will help the young players in the team in particular, because it's a strong league in which we can learn a lot and improve. In Ukraine, we don't have as good a sporting level as here because the other teams don't work as professionally.”

“A real home game atmosphere”

To gain as much support as possible – not only from other Ukrainian refugees, who live in the Düsseldorf region, there is no entrance fee for the matches in the Castello Arena, which offers a capacity of 3,000 fans. There is a large Ukrainian community in the state capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. In addition, the city has taken in over 9,000 refugees from Ukraine since the beginning of the war.

“For us, HC Motor is a project that is dear to our hearts and a positive signal to all Ukrainian refugees in Düsseldorf. We want to create a euphoria and ensure a real home game atmosphere," says Burkhard Hintzsche, city director and sports department head of the city of Düsseldorf.

“We were welcomed with open arms in Düsseldorf and are very grateful to be able to keep the game going despite the terrible war in our homeland," says HC Motor Manager Dimitriy Karpushchenko, his simple motivation: “We want to survive as a club and continue playing handball.”

Now, Motor’s international season is about to start and their opponents Füchse Berlin managed to climb to first place in the Bundesliga table on Sunday.

“Füchse Berlin are one of the strongest teams in the world. In this special season, we want to do as well as possible and show the international handball community that Ukrainian handball continues to exist and that are not defeated despite the difficult circumstances in our home country,” says Gintaras Savukynas.

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