The Ukrainian women referees who repeatedly make history

Since 2018, Ukrainian men’s football has had a team of female referees. And since 2018, they have been making history time and time again. Not just as referees or assistants, but as an all-women team officiating men’s matches at the highest level – both in Ukraine and internationally. For them, too, the Russian attack on Ukraine changed everything.

A life at war

“This is our life now,” says Maryna Striletska in a recent interview in the Mirror. Striletska, who lives in eastern Ukraine and has been a FIFA assistant referee since 2010, has been hearing the explosions around her for days. She was unable to flee before Russian soldiers crossed the Ukrainian border. Now she no longer leaves her flat and sleeps near the basement.

But they remained brave and defended their country, Striletska says in the interview. No one falls for the misinformation spread by the Russian regime to spread uncertainty.

The first at a men’s World Cup qualifier

She is in frequent contact with her colleagues, referee Kateryna Monzul and assistant referee Svitlana Grushko. Both live in the west of the country and so far have not been under constant threat. The three of them have been refereeing football matches in the top Ukrainian division (m), the Premjer Liha, since the 2020/21 season.

They also took the field for two World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 tournament in Qatar (Romania-Liechtenstein in September 2021 and England-Andorra in October 2021). Together they made history as the first ever women’s team to play in a men’s World Cup qualifier. Liudmyla Telbukh was the fourth official for the two qualifiers, while in the Ukrainian league Anastasiya Romanyuk completed the women’s team on the halfway line.

Maryna Striletska has been assisting in the Premjer Liha since April 2018 and has been consistently in Monzul’s team since 4 November 2018. Together with another assistant referee, Oleksandra Ardasheva, and referee Kateryna Monzul, she officiated both domestic and international matches for three seasons from autumn 2018. Since 2021, women can also serve as VAR or AVAR.

Kateryna Monzul made history many times over

Kateryna Monzul is a highly decorated international referee on a par with Stéphanie Frappart. Born in 1981, the urban planner grew up in a house right next to a football pitch. She kicked around the pitch from an early age, later played club football and took her refereeing exams. As an architecture student, she then took her FIFA referee exam for the first time in 2004. An examination that one has to pass every year in order to belong to the international list.

In the Premjer Liha, she has been officiating matches since 2016 and has had a female team around her almost all the time since 2018. This was also the case in 2020, when her career in international men’s football began. Her first appearance in the UEFA Nations League on 14 November 2020 was followed by her first appearance in the UEFA Europa League on 3 December the same year. For both premieres, as well as subsequent matches, her team included Maryna Striletska and Ardasheva Anastasiya as assistants, and Anastasiya Romanyuk as fourth official.

In their appearances in all competitions, Monzul and her team were pioneers: the first female team in the Ukrainian Premjer Liha, in the Europa League, in the Nations League and also in a World Cup qualifier. Let’s hope they can make history again soon.

N.B. – This article first appeared on WebDE in German as a FRÜF column on 7 March 2022.