Ilona Markova First Russian Drafted to PWHL

Boston drafted Ilona Markova Monday night, making her the first Russian selected by a PWHL team. League assured Boston they had no issue with them drafting a Russian player.

Ilona Markova First Russian Drafted to PWHL
Markova at the 2021 IIHF Women's World Championships | Photo via IIHF

Ilona Markova is the first Russian to be drafted to the PWHL. She was selected 37th overall by Boston at the PWHL’s 2024 draft in Minnesota. The 22-year-old forward is from Kirov, Russia, east of St Petersburg and Moscow.

Markova has played in the Russian women’s hockey league, the ZhHL, since the 2017-18 season. She has played for Agidel Ufa since 2018-19 and was selected as a league all-star this year. According to her profile on Elite Prospects, Markova had 40 points in 42 games in 2023-24.

No Russians declared for the PWHL draft last year, and she was the only Russian to declare for the draft this year.

Baston general manager Danielle Marmer called Markova a "sleeper pick." She said Markova is incredibly talented, but they knew she is a "player we might have a bit of a bit of an issue with the visa situation," she told reporters at a press conference following the draft.

The Russian has been a member of the national program since 2018, when she played with the under-18 team at the world championships. She was one of the team's best players in 2018 and 2019 and captained the team in 2020.

She played at the 2021 World Championships for the Russian Olympic Committee. All Russian athletes at Olympic and world championships were barred from competing under the Russian flag as part of a multi-year sanctions package in response to multiple doping offences.

She was selected for the ROC Olympic team in 2022 but tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before the team departed for Beijing. She expressed her frustration on social media that the test came after weeks of isolation ahead of travel to China.

Since the 2022 Olympics, Russia has been barred from most international competitions in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia invaded and began intense bombing of Ukraine in Feb. 2022, escalating a war that started in 2014. The International Olympic Committee suspended Russia from international athletic competition for an undetermined length of time for Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory, according to the IOC website.

Markova has continued to play with the national program since 2022, and the team has played in smaller tournaments. Russia's women's hockey league shared photos of Markova with her national teammates in Russian uniforms in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

The biggest challenge for Boston and Markova may be to come. According to the website of the USA's embassy in Russia, they have suspended immigration and visa services for Russians out of that embassy. Visas for Russians are now processed out of the US embassy in Poland. Markova will be able to apply for an employment-based visa through the Warsaw embassy.

NHL players come to the United States on a P-1A Visa for athletes, but according to the US Citizenship and Immigration website, players must be associated with a league generating more than $10 million in annual revenue to qualify.

I do not know if PWHL players will be eligible for P-1A visas. They could possibly qualify for P-1B entertainer visas. At the end of the day, Markova will have to apply for a work visa, and I don't know how challenging that will be.

But Boston's general manager is optimistic. Marmer said the league assured her they had no issue drafting a Russian player and would make efforts to help Markova immigrate.

"The league is already working on it. We're doing our best to make sure she can play next season," Marmer said. She said she's spoken with Markova's agent but not Markova yet.