Three thousand kilometres separate Dublin and Kiev, but a passion for boxing links Ireland and Ukraine.
Tonight in Dublin's Liberties, that shared passion will be on display at an event that will put a team of Irish youth boxers against a team of Ukrainian youth boxers.
The overall winners at tonight's Boxfest 2022 is ultimately not so important. Though it will be educational for up-and-coming Irish pugilists from Donore and Crumlin to pit themselves against fighters from a different boxing culture, this event is about something bigger. For the young Ukrainians, the event caps a few weeks absorbing Irish culture and some welcome relief from the realities of war.
The official Boxfest 2022 Ireland Select Vs. Ukraine Select programme. Join us, Team Ukraine, & Jobstown, Mulhuddart, Avona, Crumlin, Monkstown, St. Catherine's, Ratoath, Nutgrove, Donore, St. Conleth's & Four Corners at tomorroq from 5pm.https://t.co/Ys2ttqfpIs pic.twitter.com/RWA4DfcMYN
— Smithfield Boxing Club (@smithfieldBC) October 7, 2022
What is Boxfest?
Boxfest is the brainchild of Smithfield Boxing Club founder Igor Khmil, a Ukrainian who's lived in Dublin for over 20 years. Boxfest is a boxing event that involves an Irish select team of amateurs taking part in an international boxing tournament. In years gone by, the tournament has involved English, Ukrainian and Russian teams. However, with the events of the past 8 months, organiser Igor Khmil has extended this year's invite to solely Ukrainian boxing clubs.
The event invites young amateur boxers to Ireland in order to experience different cultures and have the opportunity to fight different opponents with different skillsets. Khmil describes how he set about creating this tournament after he moved to Ireland in 2001. He insists he only intended to stay for a short time, but 21 years later, he says, 'You won't get rid of me now.'
Khmil describes how his own boxing experience inspired Boxfest:
I'm a former Ukrainian champion myself, boxing is in my DNA.
"The culture in Ukraine is such that there would be lots of camps, competitions and interactions with other countries and other teams around the globe. That's how the athletes grow physically, mentally and technically in their sport and open their minds to other cultures. That was imbedded into me. This tradition wasn't as popular in Ireland, so I thought, 'why not try it?'".
The initial purpose was for youths to exchange with others about people's culture; food, traditions, way of living, music, dancing, you name it and boxing was just a tool for that.
The competition takes on a deeper gravity this year, because of the war in Igor's homeland.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, Khmil reimagined Boxfest 2022 as a way to fundraise for his homeland Ukraine. He sees the event as a way to raise awareness and to honour the Ukrainians who have died on the frontlines defending their country.
'With everything going on in Ukraine, and me being Ukrainian, we said 'why not', maybe it will distract from the horrors that they are going through and demonstrate support by fighting through sport show that you can fight through any difficulty you have, be it mental difficulties, be it physical, or be it basic distractions for what's going on for them on a daily basis.'
As part of Boxfest 2022, eight Ukrainian amateur youth boxers have flown to Ireland to partake in the tournament. The kids have been to Galway last week to train and experience the culture. They fought in a first round of matches last weekend and will complete the second round on Saturday. Khmil discussed the significance of the trip to Ireland for many of the kids:
"Half of them have never been on a plane, never mind across the ocean. It's a fantastic culture, they straight away feel the warmth of the people. The coach tells me of the amazing energy amongst them.
They are training, they've done a few trials of the GAA, the hurling, the football, getting to know the place.
"They've been to Phoenix Park, gone into town, gone to the youth clubs. They are seeing how things are in Ireland whilst not forgetting the actual boxing. They got to see the Celtic Warriors boxing club, they've been to see a few Olympic boxing clubs.
It's totally different and it's really cool for them.
Our thanks to @UKRinIRL Ambassador, @GeraskoLarysa for meeting our Head Coach Igor Khmil and the Ukrainian Select Team taking part in Boxfest 2022.
20 bouts in an Ireland Select V Ukraine Select take place on Saturday 🥊https://t.co/Ys2ttqx172 pic.twitter.com/mUcTB2vjxD
— Smithfield Boxing Club (@smithfieldBC) October 6, 2022
How Boxing is helping Ukrainians find their voice
Khmil talked about the role boxing plays for kids in order to escape from the every-day tragedies they face in war-torn Ukraine. He discusses the horrific events that some of the kids have been through, and recalls being 'gobsmacked' by their attitude towards boxing. Khmil's aim for Boxfest was to create a sense of escapism for the kids, and offer them a chance to showcase their abilities internationally.
Khmil recalls being astounded at the attitudes of the young Ukrainians who are desperate to do their bit in their county's fight for freedom. He recalls listening to horrific stories from young children, who are motivated to do what they can to help their country. He describes the attitudes of Ukrainians and their collective strive for freedom:
If each of us do what we can in the industry that we're in, we will prevail. We won't surrender, we'll just keep going. We have to do what we are best at, which is boxing. The nation has everyone doing their bit. I always knew the Ukranians were brave but I never thought in a million years that there'd be such a unity.
It has a massive ripple effect
Massive thanks to Ger McDaid and all at Mulhuddart Boxing Club for hosting a brilliant training session ahead of our Ireland Select V Ukraine Select at St. Catherine’s BC on Saturdayhttps://t.co/Ys2ttqx172 pic.twitter.com/1x0lFcRUL3
— Smithfield Boxing Club (@smithfieldBC) October 6, 2022
Boxfest is set to be a fantastic event, an entertaining night celebrating amateur boxing and different cultures. Proceeds from the event will go towards the charity United4Ukraine, providing help and support to those affected by the invasion of Ukraine.
The event is in St. Catherine's Community Centre, beginning at 5pm. Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite or on entry and cost five euro.