Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan mark year of war in Ukraine
We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info
In just over a month’s time, Ukraine take on England in a Euro 2024 qualifying match. The last time these two nations met was in 2021, with England earning a place in the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament’s semi-finals. Less than a year after this tie, Ukraine’s world was turned upside down, and sporting schedules were ripped apart as Russia invaded the country.
As Ukraine marked its one-year war anniversary this week, many have reflected on how the country has coped.
Everyday life was shaken up, and regular events like sports were indefinitely called off.
This included football, with players around the country forced to give up their jobs, fans left without a source of escapism.
Within a few months, however, football returned. But what exactly happened in those intervening months? And what about in the beginning?
As Russia’s invasion was announced, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that the nation’s upcoming footballing calendar would be delayed under martial law conditions invoked.
It pulled into question Ukraine’s upcoming fixture with Scotland, which was due to take place on March 24, 2022, with both national teams vying for a spot at the World Cup in Qatar.
The Champions League final, scheduled to be played in Russia’s St Petersburg, was moved to France, and its 75,000-seater stadium, the Stade de France.
Many domestic Ukrainian squads were left concerned about what steps to take. This included one of the country’s most decorated club sides, Shakhtar Donetsk, who eventually won the postponed Ukrainian Premier League.
JUST IN: Piers Morgan savages Chelsea fans as he weighs in on Mudryk transfer
According to journalist Gianluca Di Marzio when news of the invasion broke the side were “locked in a hotel room” while attempting to calculate what the best thing to do was.
Meanwhile, Mr Zelensky told Ukrainians to volunteer for the resistance against Russia: “We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.
“We will lift sanctions on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defence with weapons in hands.
“We have severed diplomatic relations with Russia. For all those who have not yet lost their conscience in Russia, it is time to go out and protest against the war with Ukraine.”
Many of the country’s most popular and influential figures took the battle to Russia, including the likes of world heavyweight champion boxer Oleksandr Usyk.
Putin prepares to blast Ukraine with nuke-capable ‘Sledgehammer’ [INSIGHT]
FIFA rejects President Zelensky’s request ahead of World Cup final [ANALYSIS]
Desperate Putin recruits football ‘ultras’ to join Ukraine invasion [LATEST]
Another was Oleksandr Kucherenko, a footballer who plays for Ukrainian top-flight side Inhulets Petrove. In a Guardian report this week, he said when war broke he “knew I could not stay still”, and so began volunteering to help his country.
He said: “Combining volunteering with my football career is hard, but it is what I want to do. I play in our Premier League games and then spend the rest of the weekends on trips to Donbas.
“I go to Bakhmut, Soledar – before the latter’s occupation in January – and other frontline cities. The military will call and request, for example, a thermal imager: I collect money, find one and bring it to them.”
But he added: “Unfortunately I have seen many people die, including women and children. The Russians brought us war, and I feel hatred and anger toward them in my heart. Perhaps in the future, I will set up my own foundation or fund. Football comes first for me, career-wise, but volunteering lights up something inside you.”
As the months rolled on, and the end of the footballing ban seemed no closer to being lifted, there was concern among many sides that without the revenue from matchdays, they may have to fold.
This grim outlook was highlighted by Veres Rivne’s general director, Anton Nazaruk. At the time, he told the Guardian that his side “couldn’t afford to lose even a year… it will cause so much damage to Ukrainian football”.
He added: “A year now is equal to 10 years of development. Our task is to unite our people in these hard times and also to keep the sport alive. Life goes on: we want peace and we play for peace.”
Eventually, it was announced that in August 2022, football would return, and from July sides began playing friendlies in a bid to be match-ready for the new season.
It saw some teams forced to leave the region they would normally play in, particularly in badly hit areas. Among the sides impacted by this was Metalist Kharkiv, who played their football in the east of the country.
Andriy Nedelin, Metalist’s executive director, said: “Everyone has a great desire to show we are alive and will achieve all the goals we set for ourselves.
“Everyone’s eyes are burning to get out on the pitch and show ordinary fans, ordinary Ukrainians, that everything in our country will only get better every day.”
Among the first matches to be played included Shakhtar’s match against Metalist 1925, which ended up being a goalless draw.
Shakhtar’s head coach, Igor Jovicevic, noted that the day of the match started as normal: “You wake up and hear it: siren, siren.”
He continued: “And then you think you’re playing later in the day, coaching the match, wanting to think about tactical aspects. We’re playing football and at the same time we’re fighting to be free men.”
Just over six months later and the league is set to resume with Shaktar attempting to chase down current league leaders Dnipro-1. And even though the war rages on, the current champions will no doubt take up the challenge.
Source: Read Full Article