Andriy Shevchenko visiting Save the Children’s summer camps in Poland.

Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko called for more mental health support for young refugees on Monday after a surprise visit to meet children who have fled the horrors of war in his home country.  

He visited a summer school in Warsaw that is helping children from Ukraine catch-up on missed learning and play. Since the war escalated five months ago, at least 5.8 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe, half of whom are estimated to be children with many having no access to education for weeks. 

Save the Children’s summer schools for children from Ukraine in Poland are providing a safe haven where young refugees can boost their education and mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. 

Shevchenko, 45, former captain and coach of the Ukraine national team and striker for AC Milan and Chelsea, spent time at the school where he visited TeamUp, an intervention designed to improve children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing through play. TeamUp was developed and delivered by War Child and Save the Children and is supported by Laureus Sport for Good, for which he is an ambassador. 

Shevchenko said: “Nearly three million children from Ukraine have been forced to flee their homes in the past five months as a result of the conflict. The physical impact of the war is clear to see, but we cannot forget about the psychological impact on these young people. It is not enough to take a child out of the war. We need to take the war out of children. 

“Sport has an incredible power to break down barriers and create hope in times of despair. Today in Warsaw, we saw the best of sport and play in action during the fun and uplifting TeamUp activities. I’m proud and thankful that Laureus is supporting initiatives like this, working in partnership with War Child and Save the Children, to help these children and their families. We must continue to work together for the future of these children.” 

Shevchenko, won the Ballon D’Or award in 2004 and retired from professional football in 2012.  He returned to the sport in 2016 as assistant coach of the Ukraine national team and was appointed head coach in 2016 until 2021, leading the nation to the quarter-finals at UEFA Euro 2020. He was most recently head coach of Serie A club Genoa. 

Many of the children Shevchenko met are experiencing uncertainty, fear and distress on a daily basis. Even when finding safety in another country, they are often silent and withdrawn or brazen and overbearing. Summer schools give these children the opportunity to explore and process their emotional experiences with sports and play, while ensuring they  don’t fall behind in their learning. 

TeamUp is an innovative, scientifically proven method of movement, play and sports, that helps conflict-affected children, aged six to 18, to deal with their emotions and relieve the stress in their bodies. TeamUp sessions are also fun, encouraging children to move, play and laugh together so they  make new friends and find a more positive outlook. 

Every TeamUp session consists of activities that have a specific goal related to a theme such as dealing with anger or stress and interacting with peers. The sessions are implemented according to a set of fixed principles: ‘same place, same face, same time’ and take place at least once a week.

Frank Velthuizen, programme director of TeamUp at War Child, said: “Children are naturally resilient, but they need our support to be like children again. We are grateful for the opportunity that Laureus is providing to do just that with TeamUp; not only in Poland but across Europe.”

Basile Ema Ebede, Save the Children’s Response Team Leader in Poland, said:

“Children from Ukraine have experienced so much in just five months. Being forced to flee your home is a life-changing event that often results in negative consequences that can persist for years. Our teams continue to witness the psychological and emotional impacts this war is having on the children. 

“The most important thing is offering children a safe and secure space where they can express their fears and worries. Our summer school programmes in Poland and across Europe, provide a supportive and nurturing environment where children from Ukraine can maintain a sense of normalcy while engaging in supportive play and learning activities. Activities like sports and play can help children release their stress and anxiety. Children in Ukraine are seeing things that no child should ever have to see.” 

Earlier this year, Laureus set up its ‘Sport for Peace and Humanitarian Action Fund’ to help alleviate the humanitarian disaster unfolding in and around Ukraine. The fund allows Laureus to respond faster and with determination to support the world’s most vulnerable when faced with crises. Thanks to this fund, Laureus was able to provide early support to the TeamUp programme. 

Laureus Sport for Good works with more than 250 community sports organisations globally that use the power of sport to combat violence, discrimination and disadvantage faced by young people. Together with our partners, Laureus Sport for Good has reached and helped change the lives of more than six million children and young people since 2000.