Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL) general manager Eugene Kolychev says he was fired by the league this week after speaking out against Andrei Denyskin’s racist gesture towards Jalen Smereck in an UHL game on Sunday.
On Wednesday, the UHL handed Denyskin a 13-game suspension and a fine. Several NHLers have since weighed in on the incident and many in the hockey community want the International Ice Hockey Federation to get involved and impose sanctions.

TSN’s Salim Valji caught up with Kolychev on Thursday to talk about the incident, Ukraine hockey’s reaction, the fight against racism, and his future in the sport.

TSN: What was your reaction to the incident?

Kolychev: I was disgusted to my core. It was my gut feeling that the problem must end right here, right now. But I didn’t know I’d have to fight for something that obvious. My bosses later told me that “there would be no racism, no problem if the game wasn’t on TV.” But it was on TV, and I was the one who pushed for it to be on TV in the first place. I also allowed the video of the racist attack to be posted on the UHL’s official YouTube page. When there is transparency, no bad problem can spread its roots. 

Is this sort of incident common in Ukrainian Hockey?

How many Black hockey players are there in the UHL? Jalen is the only one, and he is the first one in recent history. Ukraine is a country of good people, it’s not a racist country. That’s why my initial instinct was that it would be a natural and immediate reaction to condemn this racist attack and punish the attacker. 

How’s Jalen doing? Any word on his future?

It’s better if you ask him. He is deeply traumatized on so many levels, based on what I saw. My understanding that is that it’s his father of Ukrainian decent, who taught him and his brothers hockey. I am sure his father also taught him to love Ukraine. And for him to experience such a degrading attack in the land of his ancestors must be really devastating. 

What was your reaction to suspension of 13 games? 

The message against racism should be clear and powerful. It should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that racism won’t be tolerated. 

How did you find out you were getting fired?

I was fired over a Zoom call with the Ukrainian hockey authorities. 

What do you hope the IIHF does and the suspension for Andrei Denyskin?

If we as a hockey community can’t admit mistakes, we can’t fix them. I hope IIHF will be able to do this.

What are your next steps in the game of hockey?

I love hockey and if I have to fight for the beauty of the game, I’ll fight for it. I will fight the UHL decision to fire me in court. For the past 10 years I’ve been fascinated with the history of hockey in Ukraine and use every spare minute to discover more.