Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul's road to UEFA Women's EURO 2022 has been highly eventful and full of a million emotions – and her presence at the tournament in England is also a tribute to European footballing solidarity.
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Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul has had a longer journey than most to UEFA Women's EURO 2022.
The 41-year-old match official endured a difficult and perilous experience earlier this year when war broke out in Ukraine. Opting to leave the country and her native Kharkiv to escape the hostilities that impacted on Ukraine's second largest city, and initially accompanied by her two sisters and their three children, she embarked on a journey that eventually led to her establishing a base in Italy and enabling her to continue her career as a referee.
Monzul has taken charge of two matches at EURO 2022 in England – Spain's 4-1 win against Finland on Matchday 1 in Group B and Austria's 1-0 defeat of Norway in the final round of Group A games. She officiates at today's quarter-final between Sweden and Belgium at the Leigh Sports Village.
Monzul has a distinguished CV. Setting out as an international referee in 2004, she has seen duty at three FIFA Women's World Cups – she was a fourth official in 2011 and referee in 2015 and 2019 – and was chosen to officiate at the 2015 final between the United States and Japan in Canada.
This summer's stint in England is her fourth at a EURO final tournament. She took part as a referee in the 2016 Olympic Games women's football tournament and she refereed the 2014 UEFA Women's Champions League final between Tyresö and Wolfsburg in Lisbon, also working as fourth official on home soil at the 2018 final between Wolfsburg and Lyon in Kyiv.
In 2016, Monzul began refereeing matches in the Ukrainian men's Premier League – the first female official to do so – and has also been assigned to matches in the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League. In November 2020, she officiated at the UEFA Nations League match between San Marino and Gibraltar as part of the first all-female refereeing team to take charge of a senior men's international game.
This impressive career path was interrupted in February after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Monzul and her family in Kharkiv felt the immediate effects. "Nobody expected that, in the 21st century, this kind of situation could happen," she reflects. "It's a difficult situation for every Ukrainian family, as you can imagine, because families are disconnected.
"When the war started, nobody could believe it at first. My family went to my parents' home, and we were [living] underground – a special place in the house. We were there for five days."
Monzul eventually took the decision to leave Ukraine, travelling by car with her two sisters and their three boys through Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic before arriving in Germany. "It was stressful and difficult," she admits. "When we left Ukraine, we didn't have any ideas what the next step was for us."
Football holds out its hand
Happily, events then moved forward quickly. Synergies took place between UEFA, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and the Italian refereeing body AIA, and doors were opened to Italy. Accommodation was made available in Turin, and Monzul, leaving one sister and her two sons in Germany, travelled south to the Italian metropolis.
She expressed the wish to resume refereeing. The AIA responded with an initial appointment in the Italian women's Serie A competition, and Monzul then went on to take charge of matches in the men's Serie A youth championship. The crucial backing of the AIA, allied to the unfailing support of UEFA and the FIGC, put her in a position to continue her profession.
April brought additional positive news for Monzul, when her selection was confirmed for the group of 13 referees for Women's EURO in England. She is eternally grateful for football's hand of friendship at the toughest of times. "I thank all the football family, because everybody has really helped me," Monzul says. "Ukrainian and international refereeing colleagues also [got in touch], and this was really, really important to me."
Savouring the England experience
Another Ukrainian official, assistant referee Maryna Striletska, is also part of the EURO team after leaving her country for Switzerland earlier this year, and she has been running the line at Swiss domestic third-tier matches. Luhansk-born Striletska has been one of Monzul's referee team-mates at her two EURO matches, along with Polish assistant referee Paulina Baranowska and fourth official Ivana Projkovska from North Macedonia.
"Not only can I now speak to [Maryna] in a professional way as a referee, I can also talk to her on my personal life, my normal life," Monzul says. "It has really helped me. I'm happy to be here with her."
Since her arrival in England, Monzul has been relishing the opportunity to renew close ties with the UEFA refereeing family and savour the unique atmosphere of a record-breaking EURO tournament. "It's a really important competition for me as a referee," she emphasises. "It's not possible to forget about the war. But when you step onto the field, your mindset changes."
Monzul underlines that regular contact with loved ones at home is helping her maintain focus and morale. "We exchange messages with pleasure a few times a day, we can talk to each other through video calls, especially with my parents, who have remained in Kharkiv.
"They really support me – after each call, I get the strength to continue, and to be here and represent Ukraine. My aim, as always, is to do my job in a very professional way."
Hope for peace
Life for Kateryna Monzul has taken a different turn since February. Nevertheless, thanks to her innate professionalism, she has still been able to prove in taxing personal circumstances why she has reached the European and world refereeing summits and established such an outstanding reputation.
She hopes to return to Ukraine as soon as possible, and shares one final salient thought. "The most important thing is to stop this war – world peace is the most important thing. It's my [hope] for everybody."