Ukraine War & Football: Premier League’s Hopeful Team

It is more than a symbolic gesture that a huge blue and yellow flag hangs from Bremen’s town hall these days. Showing solidarity with Ukraine in front of the most important sites in the city, in the market square with Roland and the city musicians, is an important statement. Especially when the Ukrainian national footballers are in the Hanseatic city, who not only play the benefit match against the DFB selection here this Monday evening, but also prepare for the European Championship qualifiers on June 16 in North Macedonia and three days later. prepare against Malta. Bundesliga side SV Werder are also helping out, providing the war-torn country’s national team with a training ground, where fellow Ukrainians who have fled can sometimes look over the fence.

The goal: to bring ME 2024 back to Germany, a country “which supports us enormously”, as new national coach Serhiy Rebrow points out. But lot didn’t mean good: with European champions Italy and European runners-up England in a group, the EM ticket to Ukraine is next to impossible. The team missed Qatar 2022 in the play-off final against Wales after winning the semi-final against Scotland, which drew widespread sympathy around the world.

And now? “We are fighting for qualification,” explained Rebrow. “We represent Ukraine in Europe. For me it is very important that we give our all – and then we will see what happens.” The 49-year-old, who played for Dynamo Kyiv as a professional for a long time, has meanwhile also played in the Premier League while West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur let his coaching contract expire in the United Arab Emirates in order to return to his native country. “I listened to my heart.” Such patriotism is also practiced by most footballers, who see themselves in the role of providing a bit of distraction. After all, you are just far enough from home, where the war of Russian aggression leaves its bloody traces.

Rebrow, who himself played 75 times for the Ukrainian national team, formulated his own mission for himself and his proteges at the Weser Stadium this weekend: “For me, football is synonymous with emotions. Emotions are lacking in our country, our people. In times of war, everyone watches the news, what is happening, so do we. That’s why he told his players: “We have to give the Ukrainians emotions to support them. We have to show our character on the pitch. “Never give up, keep fighting.

When introduced last week, the coach first thanked the armed forces back home “for standing up for our independence and allowing us to talk about football.” Andriy Jarmolenko, the captain, also feels a special obligation in difficult times. “It’s hard for the players, but we have to be strong because we are Ukrainians,” says the 33-year-old, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, but turned pro at Ukrainian flagship club Dynamo Kyiv. A return is in sight as his contract with al-Ain FC at the Emirates expires in a few days. “We have to play football for our fans, for our people, to give them something positive,” says the former Borussia Dortmund Bundesliga player.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done. This was reported in Bremen by Anatoli Trubin, Shakhtar Donetsk’s only 21-year-old national goalkeeper. When Vladimir Putin’s troops occupied Crimea in 2014 and Russian separatists stirred up unrest in the Donbas basin, the club had to move from Donetsk to Kyiv. Since then, the goalkeeper talent lives in the capital with his mother and sister, while relatives remained in Donetsk. Matches in exile with the club, like in European Cup competitions in Warsaw or Lviv, have become part of everyday life for Trubin and many of his teammates, but appearances with the national team are something special. “Now we want to show the whole world: Ukraine is still there.

The Russian invasion in February 2022 changed everything and caused an incredible amount of suffering. Really amazing that the league started again last summer. The head of the association, Andriy Pawelko, quickly launched the resumption of play at the highest level: “I spoke to President Zelenskyj about the importance of football to entertain.” Unfortunately, it then became known that Pawelko was involved in a corruption scandal, which also happened over dismissals. to a capital problem of the young nation. In any event, the uncovered embezzlement of aid funds also jeopardizes the joint bid with Spain and Portugal for the 2030 World Cup.

The Ukrainian league endured a quirky season of disruption caused by alarms, tight security and empty ranks. Shakhtar Donetsk were champions again. The club continues to be the mainstay of the national team because billionaire Rinat Akhmetov has not let go. Previously suspected of being too close to Russian separatists, he is now clearly committed to Ukraine. When Mykhailo Mudryk went to Chelsea from Donetsk for €100m in the winter, part of the money went to defending Mariupol City.

Shakhtar have long sought support at home to no avail, but the team has received great support since the outbreak of war. But the nightmares don’t stop: Warden Trubin said there had been constant air raids in kyiv almost every night for the past few months. “You keep waking up.” It’s hard to stay in shape. When he’s on the pitch, it’s just the game in his head. But when he leaves the place, the war returns to his head. He will never forget February 24, 2022, the day Russia invaded his native country: “My life stopped at that moment.

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