‘Football is not just a sport’: Ukraine national team make emotional plea ahead of Euro 2024 debut

Ukraine’s football team is about to try to make their country proud on Monday in their first tournament game against Romania at 3 pm CET. But the players currently in Germany for Euro 2024 haven’t forgotten about their war-torn homeland.

In an emotional video shared by the football governing body of Ukraine, 13 players showed the devasting effect of the conflict on their home cities and towns.

Ballon d’Or winner and Ukrainian Football Association President Andriy Shevchenko said the key message is that football and war are not separated.

“There’s no Ukrainian football player, city, stadium, playground, or child untouched by the war”, he explained.

“We are here at EURO 2024 thanks to the incredible people fighting for our freedom, including hundreds of thousands of football fans who would rather be on the stands instead of on the frontlines.”

Devastation in Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine

“Football is not just a sport; it is also a powerful force, a symbol of solidarity, unity, and the support our country desperately needs”.

‘Bombarded day and night’

“My dad and I used to go to the Krasnohrad stadium to play football after work”, said Ukraine and Chelsea midfielder Mykhailo Mudryk.

“Since the beginning of the full-scale war, my city has been bombarded with missiles day and night. Despite this, my family remain in Krasnohrad and they always believe in the victory of Ukraine.”

Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin also comes from the Kharkiv region, which has been shelled by the Russian army since the beginning of the war.

Players of Ukraine’s national soccer team warm up during a public training session in Wiesbaden, Germany, Thursday, June 13, 2024, ahead of their group E match against Romania

A similar situation occurred in Zaporizhzhia, the hometown of Serhii Sydorchuk, Belgian club Westerlo’s midfielder.

Dynamo Kyiv player Mykola Shaparenko’s village of Velyka Novosilka was completely destroyed. The last 300 people remaining there don’t have water or electricity.

The Donetsk region town of Ukraine’s manager Serhiy Rebrov, Horlivka, was also affected. He hasn’t been able to return home for over 10 years.

A young woman watches players of Ukraine’s national soccer team during a public training session in Wiesbaden, Germany, Thursday, June 13, 2024, ahead of their group E match

The video also features Arsenal’s left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, Bournemouth defender Ilya Zabarnyi, Genoa midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi and Girona strikers Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tsygankov.

No end to war in sight

Attempts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict have failed to make substantial progress so far.

Over the weekend, around 100 countries participated in a summit in Switzerland to chart a path towards peace.

The final document, signed by 78 delegations, said that any “just and lasting peace” in Ukraine must respect its”territorial integrity and sovereignty”.

But that seems like a non-starter for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has consistently demanded Ukraine give up the four Russian-occupied regions as the first condition to start peace talks.

Ukraine is currently struggling to fend off Russia’s forces, particularly after Moscow mounted a new incursion in the north-eastern Kharkiv region.

The whole front, however, remains under pressure, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanding more firepower from his Western allies.

The upcoming NATO summit in Washington, which kicks off on 9 July, should lay the basis for how the alliance intends to support Ukraine in this delicate phase of the war.

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