Two football-loving Ukrainian soldiers toured the World Trade Center site in Manhattan Tuesday on their way to be honored at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.
Yuri Hundych, 41, and Roman Boshuslavskyi, 36, took a break from fighting Russian invaders on the frontlines to represent their homeland at the big game Sunday.
They stopped at St Nicholas Orthodox Church, which was newly rebuilt after being destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, and toured the nearby memorial of the 2001 massacre with former New York Gov. George Pataki and Oleksii Holubov, the Consulate General of Ukraine in New York.
Hundych and Boshuslavskyi — both American football players themselves — were granted permission from Ukraine officials to attend the game and bring attention to the war-torn country’s plight on the world stage, as the anniversary of the brutal unprovoked invasion neared.
“It’s a big honor to represent the Ukraine army. We don’t think of this as a tourist trip,” said Hundych, who is the head of the Ukrainian League of American Football and a junior sergeant in the UA armed forces who has seen combat in the Popasna area of the Luhansk region, which was illegally annexed by Russia this fall.
“While we are here, our brothers and sisters are on the frontlines. Here we are showing we are the same people as the Americans, we like football…and we stand for democracy.”
Hundych owns an advertising company but played offensive tackle for the Kiev Patriots as a hobby. He left his wife and their 5-year-old daughter in Riga to fight when the Russians invaded, telling The Post he and his fellow soldiers were “just normal people with regular lives” before the war.
“Nobody believed we can stand and we stand. The world started to believe us and helped us. With this help, we started taking back the territory,” he said. “We continue to make small steps towards victory,” he said of the Ukrainian military’s impressive upstart efforts to hold off their more well-equipped aggressors.
Boshuslavskyi is also a junior sergeant and former ULAF player who worked as a lawyer before fighting Russians in the illegally annexed Luhansk region. He is the father of three children under 5 and lost his football-playing brother Danylo in the war, he said.
“He died ten days before Kherson was liberated,” Boshuslavskyi said of Danylo. “He never saw the liberated Kherson but I took his ashes there and scattered his ashes in Kherson.”
“It’s not a war between Ukraine and Russia. Russia wants to take over the entire Eastern Europe,” the soldier said.
“We are fighting for the entire world. The support shown has been really great but we hope with further support we are going to be able to liberate all our land and finish this war.”
Boshuslavskyi said he would return to Ukraine to continue fighting in a week, but in the meantime, he felt it was important to be an ambassador for his home country. Still, he had mixed feelings about the trip to Manhattan and Glendale.
“I still have stuff on my mind. I feel like if I have a right to feel fun, I feel guilt for that, for being here while my comrades are still there,” he explained.
“We just made our mind that we can be helpful here. USA is one of the biggest supporters of Ukraine. Fighting for the minds here is not less important than being there.”
Pataki, 77, was in office when the Twin Towers were knocked down, and has been spearheading relief missions to Ukraine as well as delivering footballs to Kyiv through his charitable foundation.
The Republican said he was “amazed to learn that Ukrainians play American football” after visiting Ukraine during the war.
“Not just a few but hundreds of Ukrainians and they have an entire league,” the former gov said, before showing his guests around the revamped World Trade Center.
He likened the “scenes of devastation in Ukraine” to the staggering destruction the city suffered in the terror attacks.
“You wonder how will they ever be rebuilt,” he said. “Well, there were those who looked at Ground Zero in the days and weeks and months after and said ‘how will that ever get rebuilt?’
“And look where we are now — better than ever, rising to new heights,” he said, with the Freedom Tower looming in the background.
“Ukraine will come back and rebuild and rise to new heights and soar greater than ever,” Pataki predicted. “The rule of law has got to prevail. Democracy and freedom has got to prevail.”
“We are here in the monument of 9/11 to see how much pain and drama they took of the American nation,” Hundych told reporters at a press conference. “From our understanding, almost a year, we feel…tragedy every day. Without your support, without American support I don’t think we [could be] here alive,” he added.
Hundych said he’d be rooting for the Eagles in the Super Bowl, but explained his hero is Tom Brady, who he’s seen play four times on his previous trips to the US.
“Everybody loves Tom Brady and I enjoy his team and I’m still a huge fan of the Patriots.”
Asked if he’d like to meet Tom Brady, he smiled and said, “Of course. He’s my hero.”
“My dream is to visit all 32 stadiums in the United States,” Hundych said, explaining “I just love football. I can’t believe I will be there [at the Super Bowl] still.”
Boshuslavskyi also said he was rooting for Philadelphia to beat Kansas City, although he had hoped that the Bengals would have pulled through against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
The soldier said he was star-struck by his first visit to the city — which he has learned about on the silver screen.
“I can say New York is the most filmed city ever. I’ve seen it so many times. No other city has been filmed so much in other cities. It’s like how I imagined,” Boshuslavskyi said.
The soldiers said they were looking forward to the day when their comrades would be able to trade the battlefield for the gridiron.
‘After the victory, we hope we can return back to normal life and play football,” Hundych said.