Olga Dolinina works for peace through hockey

By Brian Canever September 27, 2014

Olga Dolinina is proud of Ukraine’s strong sporting history. She just wishes her compatriots’ athletic exploits weren’t overshadowed by the specter of civil war and turmoil.

“Right now when I see Ukraine on the front page of the New York Times,” says Dolinina, “it is for all the wrong reasons.”

Dolinina knows the power sport can bring to communities, especially in turbulent times. It is precisely what she works for as the head of marketing and public relations for Donbass hockey club in eastern Ukraine, where the country has been hardest hit since last spring’s revolution.

Among the many initiatives launched by Dolinina is a program called “I Know Everything About Hockey,” where Donbass members attend schools in the region, interacting with more than 15,000 students and teaching them about health and sports participation.

Dolinina could not be happier in her current position. However, she did not always eye a career in sports management.

As a youth, Dolinina played soccer and tennis recreationally and had an interest in journalism. But, before she had even turned 20, she applied to be the first press officer in the history of the Football Federation of Ukraine, the nation’s governing body for soccer, and was hired.

At the same time, Dolinina worked as a journalist for Komanda, a major sports newspaper in Kiev, and was completing coursework for her first master’s degree in psychology and English.

“It was a balancing act,” says Dolinina, “but that’s the path of the strong woman, you have to work twice as hard as everyone around you.”

Not only did Dolinina strive to balance her two professions and school, but also to show that she belonged in sports media.

“Men don’t have to worry about being questioned for their qualifications like I did,” she says. “When I tried to interview coaches at the newspaper, sometimes they would look at me like, ‘You’re a woman, what do you understand about soccer?’ So I had to work hard and prove them wrong.”

Dolinina finished her degree in 2007 and added a second master’s in sports management four years later. After graduation, she worked as the venue manager for Euro 2012, the first time Ukraine hosted the continent’s premier soccer tournament, and eventually joined Donbass in 2013.

Although the list of her accomplishments is remarkable at first sight, it is all the more impressive when viewed in context. According to the World Economic Forum, Ukraine is ranked 64th in the world in gender equality and 119th in female political empowerment; worse than almost every nation in Europe and much poorer countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Even amid those statistics and an even more intense political climate, Dolinina is committed to her fight for change. In fact, she has already witnessed Ukrainian women working to do the same by overturning stereotypes and raising their voices for change in the government and beyond.

“In these current conditions, women can show power and strength,” says Dolinina. “They’ve already started to collect donations, help people relocating from the East, and have become the head of the anti-corruption committees. They’re taking the situation into their own hands.”