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Scots goalkeeper swaps saving shots for saving lives in Ukraine

This news post is almost 2 years old

Kieran McCulloch has been deployed to Ukraine as part of his work with the HALO Trust. 

A goalkeeper swapped saving shots to help save lives in Ukraine with Scottish demining charity The HALO Trust.

Kieran McCulloch missed the end of last season with West of Scotland League side Threave Rovers because his day job as a logistics and procurement officer for HALO took him to war-torn Ukraine.

The HALO Trust is ridding areas around Kyiv of deadly explosive devices with support of £2million funding from the UK Government.

Dumfries-born Kieran, 30, returned from his second deployment to Ukraine on July 23 and now hopes to win back the No1 jersey for Castle Douglas-based Threave Rovers.

He said: “As strange as it sounds, I actually find football’s probably a lot more stressful.

“If you’ve got the manager or the crowd screaming and bawling at you because you’ve not caught the ball properly, I find that more stressful than when an airstrike is coming.

“If you make one mistake in goals then your team is 1-0 down and there’s absolutely no hiding place.

“As a goalkeeper, your job is to get in the way of shots, but when I’m out working with HALO in places like Ukraine, it’s the total opposite.

“All our training is about how to avoid being in the line of fire. I’ve worked in Somalia, Armenia and the West Bank but this is the first time I’ve been to a live war zone.

“When you hear air raid sirens for the first time and get text alerts through saying ‘Take cover’ that is where you realise you could be blown up any second.

“When we were working in Vinnytsia, about 170 miles from Kyiv, three Russian missiles hit the centre of the city just a couple of kilometres from where we were based. The attack killed 30 or 40 people.

“We heard the explosions as the rockets hit. You heard three massive thuds in the distance and because the air raid sirens had been wailing you knew instantly what it was.

“From the window I had a look over and you could see all the smoke coming up from the train station direction.

“My job with HALO can be stressful and Ukraine has been full-on but it’s rewarding because you are helping make peoples’ lives safer.”

HALO operates in almost 30 conflicted-affected countries and spends around £3million-a-year on training, including a large component on safety and security procedures.

Kieran has been supporting HALO’s team of 400 Ukrainian deminers by overseeing the supply of vital equipment including metal detectors, bullet-proof vests, and armoured vehicles.

The £2million UK Government funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is enabling The HALO Trust to survey and then clear devices from areas in Ukraine where Russian troops have recently withdrawn. 

The Scottish charity – whose headquarters are in Thornhill, near Dumfries – is also working to educate civilians, especially children, about the risks of landmines.

Kieran said: “To see buildings burned to a crisp and the scale of that devastation with your own eyes is really shocking. It was a full-on war zone.

“It could have been any street or retail park in Scotland except everything was burnt out. You’d get rows of houses and some of them are wrecked, and some are fine. It’s just luck of the draw for these people whether their home was blown up.

“We employ around 400 Ukrainian staff and a lot of them have lost their homes or loved ones, but they continue coming to work to make their country better. They are the real heroes. I’m just a guy in the background trying to get them their kit on time.”

The UK Government has pledged £2.3billion in military support, and £220million of humanitarian aid to help with the crisis.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has now sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and over 100 entities to help cripple Putin’s war machine.

UK support to the HALO Trust in 2021/22 alone helped to reduce mine related casualties by clearing over 400,000 m² of previously contaminated land.

Minister for Europe Graham Stuart said: “Kieran McCulloch has swapped saving shots to play a crucial role saving lives in Ukraine and the UK Government is proud to be supporting The HALO Trust’s world-leading demining work.

“The UK stands in solidarity with Ukraine against Putin’s illegal and inhumane war by pooling expertise from across Britain to make a real difference through our £220million humanitarian aid response.

“People from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland stand behind international support for Ukraine in its fight against Putin’s illegal and inhumane war.”