Mykola Kukharevych reveals 'full strength' timescale as Hibs forward opens up on Ukraine war
Lee Johnson classed him as an orthodox nine who does his work between the posts, while warning that he still has lots to learn – but as Scottish Premiership debuts go, Mykola Kukharevych can be happy with his 86 minutes for Hibs against Aberdeen at the weekend.
A surprise starter despite only arriving three days in Edinburgh before the game, the Ukrainian forward gave Hibs a focal point in attack and notched an assist for Josh Campbell – even if the two-goal midfielder should have laid on a chance for the 21-year-old earlier in the game.
Speaking afterwards, Kukharevych smiles as he reflected on Campbell’s decision.
"I spoke with him but it's okay, it's more important that we win,” he says, jokingly warning that things might be different if it happens again as he smacks a clenched fist into his other hand with a small smile.
The on-loan Troyes forward had already spoken about looking forward to playing at Easter Road in front of the fans and endeared himself to the support with an energetic, if understandably somewhat rusty performance up top.
"It was really a big pleasure to win in my first game on Saturday and to experience that fantastic atmosphere,” he adds.
"I really enjoyed the game. I just want to say thank you to our fantastic supporters. The atmosphere was really impressive. It was great.”
Scotland face Ukraine in Glasgow on Wednesday night in the first of a UEFA Nations League double-header but Kukharevych won’t be at Hampden to watch his countrymen play because he’ll – hopefully – be leading the line for Ukraine’s Under-21s as they face Slovakia in a two-legged play-off to reach Euro 2023.
Hibs will benefit from him getting extra match minutes during the international break but the striker, who endured a bit of a frustrating time in Belgium on loan at OH Leuven, showed enough glimpses against the Dons to suggest that he might be the final piece of the attacking jigsaw for Lee Johnson.
His height is an obvious strength but he is nimble with the ball at his feet too. A flicked effort with his back heel in the first went wide and a scissors-kick attempt in the second half might have flown over the bar but in football-speak, at least he’s getting into the right positions to be getting the chances.
Whisper it, but there were shades of Florian Kamberi at the start of his Hibs stint from Kukharevych on Saturday, with his bustling approach and powerful build.
You can see him scoring headers, tap-ins, and long-range efforts from outside the box. After his acrobatic efforts against Aberdeen, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him score with a bicycle kick or a rabona.
Kukharevych and Harry McKirdy could be shrewd signings for a Hibs team that was struggling really to create much in the final third. The return of Martin Boyle has obviously helped with that issue while Josh Campbell is stepping up from midfield, but clubs want strikers to be scoring goals
The Ukrainian forward looks capable of wearing many hats at Easter Road – lone frontman; little-and-large partnership with McKirdy or even Boyle or Kevin Nisbet; or the focal point in a front three as seen on Saturday.
It’s early days and Johnson stressed that Kukharevych is not a ready-made signing – but the base elements look promising, and the player himself knows he isn’t quite firing on all cylinders just yet.
"I think I need a little bit of time to improve my fitness and to get to know my team-mates better,” he offered after the Aberdeen game.
"But it's okay, we got the win on Saturday and we will continue from here.
"I think I only need maybe two or three games to get up to 100 per cent fitness, but I'm enjoying it already. There's a really good atmosphere in the team and the stadium. I'm really happy to be here.
Talk turns to Kukharevych’s homeland. He will be representing his country this week on international duty but the ‘home’ games. for Ukraine will be played in the neutral venue of Poland. On a very related note, Kevin Dąbrowski has helped Kukharevych settle in and is on hand to provide his translation skills should the new Hibs signing run into difficulties with words – or maybe the Scottish accents in the Easter Road press room.
"Kevin is a good guy. He's Polish – we're brothers and so are our countries,” Kuharevych smiles, gesturing to the goalkeeper.
"The situation back home is much better than it was when the war started,” he continues.
Kukharevych hasn’t been home since New Year, but that’s not unusual for him, given he has been playing football outwith Ukraine since July last year – and even when he was Rukh Lviv he was still nearly 400km from home.
"My family live in the western part of the country, which is safer territory than in the east,” he explains.
"They came to see me just over a week ago when I came to Scotland but I haven't been home to Ukraine since I visited for a few days at New Year last year.
"That's not new for me, because I have played abroad for a long time, so I rarely get home to see my family.”
While Kukharevych is concerned about the situation in his homeland he remains confident of a Ukrainian victory
"So far I think my country has shown the whole world how strong it is,” Kukharevych continues.
"We have a really good mentality and I think we're going to win this battle.
"Hopefully I can go back home as soon as possible after the war is won.”
Until that is possible, he looks to have already made a home for himself in the Capital – and with friends like Dąbrowski by his side, the transition will be that bit easier.