FOUR young badminton players from war-torn Ukraine have been adopted by a North-East club to help them feel welcome in this country.

Anastasia Ruban, 13, Masha Ilinska, 14, Ivan Spynu, 16, and Illia Iliashenko, 16, have been given membership of Hummersknott Badminton Club, in Darlington, after they were forced to flee their homeland.

The teenagers, along with their mothers, are living with UK families as far away as Ipswich but contact was made through Badminton England.

That led to them being brought to Darlington for a two-day visit to enable them to meet their new team-mates ahead of a tour of Cyprus and Greece next month.

Team Manager, Philip Boyle, said: “As soon as the invasion happened, our thoughts turned to how we could use the sport of badminton to help integrate refugee families and make them feel at home.”

The club was formed by Philip 48 years ago, as a lunchtime activity at Hummersknott Academy, when he was a science teacher. It grew into a successful club, with overseas tours being used to give young members experiences of other cultures.

Club members have visited 42 countries over the years and the next 14-day trip is to Cyprus and Greece between July 15 and 28.

So far, the club has raised £8,000 to cover the costs of travel and accommodation, but an appeal is being launched to collect a further £1,500 to enable the four Ukrainian players, as well as Anastasia’s mother to go.

“The families were basically penniless when they arrived in this country, and we don’t have any spare money in the club coffers to cover the extra costs, so we are appealing to local people to come to our aid.

“The Ukrainian children have obviously been through a terrible time and are still adjusting, so it would be a break for them to come with us. But it would also be hugely beneficial to the Darlington club members on the trip because it would help them put life in context.”

Speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian players, Ivan said: “We are upset and missing our families. We want to go home but everyone has been very kind, and it is very nice to come to Darlington to play badminton and meet new friends. It helps take our minds off what is happening.”

The Ukrainian players and their mothers were given a civic reception by the Mayor of Darlington, Anne-Marie Curry, and presented with souvenirs of postcards illustrating Darlington’s heritage as the birthplace of the railways.

They then went to the Dolphin Centre to join in games of badminton with their new team-mates.