Sheffield Steelers star thanks club and fans for helping family of his Ukrainian wife

A Sheffield Steelers star today has thanked his club and its fans for their “amazing” gesture to support family of his Ukranian wife, who were forced to flee their war-torn country.

By Bob Westerdale
Monday, 14th March 2022, 12:49 pm

Club official David Simms came up with the idea of a shirt raffle for Martin Látal's jersey a few days ago - and sold 5,000 tickets at £2 each in less than eight hours.

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The cash will be used to help 13 members of Martin's wife Iryna's family who are now safe but have become penniless refugees in his own home country, the Czech Republic.

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Martin with his wife Iryna and their young daughter

The Látals are trying to support them from Sheffield, while also doing what they can for 240 women and children who have also arrived in the same Czech region.

“It is incredible how people show the love for other people,” said the ice hockey player.

“When nothing is going on you don't know about this, but then the war started people became very generous.

“To take that much money in eight hours is crazy, it shows how good people are in Sheffield.

Martin Latal plays for Sheffield Steelers

“I am also very happy with the Steelers' organisation, Tony and Shaun Smith and David, who organised the raffle and did a great job. I thank them now and will in person.”

Martin, aged 33, said 11 members of his wife's family have arrived safely in his home country and two more are en route.

They travelled from Tiachiv, Zhytomyr and Kharkiv.

“Some cities have been taken by the Russians, and my wife's cousin was in a bunker for five days, hiding.

“Here, my wife was crying when she saw footage at the start of all this.

“She called her family and they were telling us they could hear bombs dropping and guns firing. Their little kids, they cried, but at least they are safe now in Czech.

“My wife's cousin paid for two buses to go to Slovakia border and also drove by herself a big van full of medicine and stuff because they are struggling with medicine and food.

“They could not bring their own money, when the war started they could not take any money out of bank machines. I did not know this but most of them only have an average salary that is not even £300 a month.

“It is cheaper there than here, but still not enough for most families to do things like travel.”

The Sheffield winger said: “(The refugees) were now staying in apartments and at a cabin which we rent, so we're going to use the money for the rent and make it warm there.

“Every night, my wife every night goes online ordering groceries and makes sure they are delivered to them.

“The (Sheffield) money is not only for them, the city where my wife has family was seized in last two weeks, it is also to help 240 women and children from all over Ukraine who are there.

“It is a big number not easy to find homes and they don't have health insurance. They could all bring just one bag, they have nothing.”

Martin said it was "heartbreaking” to see what his in-laws and friends were going through, but said he was relieved that there were “a lot of good people in this world” including his teammates and players from the other side.

Steelers played in Northern Ireland over the weekend.

“At the game, one of the referees talked to (teammate) Justin Hodgman and told him he wanted to send me money.

“A defenceman from Belfast's team also came over to me after the game, it was very emotional.

“He also wanted to donate money and said hoped things would be ok.

“Some of our fans at the hotel were absolutely amazing and want to show their support. It is great to feel the love,” said Martin, father of a one-year-old daughter.

Martin is pessimistic about what will happen in Ukraine.

“I don't think Russia will stop, they will keep going until they take over, nobody wants to be there when tanks and soldiers come in, everybody will try to escape fast as possible.

“The husbands left behind cannot leave the country, they are just waiting to find out if they are going to go to war or not.

“Maybe this will stop when the Russians arrest the President of Ukraine or whatever they do, but you never know what is the plan what the Russians are up to.”

Steelers official Simms said: “Selling so many raffle tickets in eight hours was wonderful - but that's what you get from our wonderful supporters.”