14 Nov. 2023
After a 14-year wait, Ukraine finally return to the world stage at Denmark/Norway/Sweden 2023. In the early years of the 2000s, they had a good run in all major international competitions, finishing second at the EHF EURO 2000 in Romania and fourth at the 2003 IHF Women's World Championship in Croatia. Their efforts were crowned at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where they won the bronze medal.
The Ukrainian national team continued to participate at the international level but since 2015, they haven’t qualified for neither the EHF EURO, nor the World Championship. This year’s edition will mark their eighth appearance, as they have qualified for it through the European qualification, securing a clear win on aggregate (66:24) over Luxembourg in the first phase.
In the second phase of the qualification, they faced North Macedonia and produced one of the biggest surprises in that competition. While the first leg was evenly matched, with a better outcome for Ukraine, they outplayed their rivals in the second leg with an outstanding defence, winning by a nine-goal margin, for a 55:44 aggregate win.
A good defence encourages good goalkeeping, which Mariia Gladun showed in both phases of the European Qualification. While she saved 51% against Luxembourg, she also performed on a high level against North Macedonia, saving around 35% in both matches. Gladun played for two years for the German club Füchse Berlin in the second Germany league and moved to the current Croatian Champions, ZRK Lokomotiva Zagreb, this summer, where she will also compete at the international level in the EHF European League.
While some players like Gladun and Yevheniia Levchenko play abroad, a good number of players are gathered at the Ukrainian club HC Galychanka, which is also coached by the Ukrainian national team head coach Vitaliy Andronov and assistant Oksana Ploshchynska. The main issue for Ukraine will be the absence of their top scorer, Iryna Glibko, who has a medical issue and has not played since the end of the previous season.
While Andronov has been the head coach for the Ukrainian club since 2020, he took over the Ukrainian national team in 2021 after having missed the qualification for the 2021 IHF Women's World Championship. He is a familiar face for the Ukrainian Handball Federation as a player and a coach. From 2014 until 2018 he coached the men’s side but could not meet the expectations and did not qualify for any major competition on an international level.
All the better his team qualified for this year’s edition on the women’s side to end more than a decade of absence. The squad will meet Spain, Brazil and Kazakhstan in Frederikshavn in Denmark. “All I wanted was to avoid Austria or Iceland and now we have to face Kazakhstan. It won’t be easy, but we have to beat them to fulfill our minimum goal to proceed to the main round. We have our fate in our own hands,” stated Andronov on the website of the Ukrainian Handball Federation after the draw.
Key players: Maria Gladun (goalkeeper), Diana Dmytryshyn (right back), Yevheniia Levchenko (right wing)
Qualification for DEN/NOR/SWE 2023: European qualification Phase 2 – Winners versus North Macedonia (55:44 on aggregate)
History in tournament: 1995: 9th, 1999: 13th, 2001: 18th, 2003: 4th, 2005: 10th, 2007: 13th, 2009: 17th
Group at DEN/NOR/SWE 2023: Group G (Brazil, Spain, Ukraine, Kazakhstan)
Photo credit: Ukrainian Handball Federation