A former youth player chronicles the abuse he suffered as part of a notorious Ukrainian hockey team.
Depicting one’s experience on a hockey club as an Iron Curtain Gulag is certainly provocative—and that’s exactly the aim of former player Starchenko. The Ukrainian was selected at age 8 by coach Ivan Pravilov to play for his squad, Druzhba-78. Druzhba means ‘friendship,’ but the coach’s behavior was anything but affable. Starchenko would endure 10 years of cruel and inhumane behavior at the hands of Pravilov, who, the author alleges, abused the players for his personal satisfaction and entertainment. Each chapter is a tormenting slice of the physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse forced upon hopeful kids, all of whom would quickly and repeatedly succumb to a man practicing total sadistic control. Starchenko eventually breaks his allegiance with the “monster” at age 18, moving to North America, marrying and becoming a coach himself. He writes his story in hopes that it will “encourage other former players to step forward and make Ivan Pravilov accountable for his actions.” The text’s often unemotional tone belies the author’s attempt “to relieve myself of the huge emotional burden I carry on my shoulders whenever topics of child abuse and molestation arise.” That cathartic statement is about as expressive as Starchenko gets in recounting matter-of-fact descriptions of incident after unbelievable incident. It could be very likely that the stoic writing parallels the detached mechanisms that the player used to cope. The more discerning reader will quickly gather that the venue of the rink is ultimately insignificant; various aspects of hockey are not even discussed until the eighth chapter, and the balance of the book continues with barely an account of the game itself. The coach’s tactics are repeatedly compared to those of Stalin, a comparison that hardly falls into hyperbole. Pravilov was arrested shortly after this book’s release, so it remains to be seen if Starchenko will be legally vindicated.
A disturbing and provocative illustration of an important topic.