Following an executive order from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the country’s 2022-23 domestic football season will start on Tuesday, August 23. This date has been chosen as it coincides with Ukraine’s Day of the National Flag.
A decision had been taken in April to suspend the 2021-22 football season due to the Russian invasion. At that time, with around half of the season played, Shakhtar Donetsk was top of the league by two points.
Head of the Ukrainian Football Association, Andriy Pavelka, said of the occasion: “Restarting football is a big step for the country. It’s a sign to the world that Ukraine can and will win. It’s also a sign to society that we are confident”. He added: “It’s good that all the leagues will play. This will raise everyone’s spirits”.
Discussions are ongoing with the Ministry of Defence as to the best way of holding this new season’s matches explained Pavelka. Initial thoughts though are that fans will not be allowed into stadiums, and that air-riad sirens and bomb shelters will be installed in approved grounds.
Shakhtar has already qualified for this season’s Champions League competition because they were top of the table when the season stopped. The second available spot could be filled by Dynamo Kyiv, with a Europa League slot possibly going to SC Dnipro-1.
The Donetsk club has already spent eight seasons playing outside its home city due to the fighting that broke out in the region back in 2014 with pro-Russian separatists. It is now a city that finds itself on the frontline of the war with Russia.
Many teams have relocated to other cities since the invasion, but Dynamo Kyiv reportedly plans to play home matches in the capital, at their Valeriy Lobanovsky stadium. Dynamo have a Champions League playoff match this coming Wednesday, August 17 against Portugal’s Benfica, but will play their home leg in Poland.
Two of last season’s first division clubs – Desna Chernihiv and Mariupol FC – have both seen their grounds destroyed during the conflict. When the war broke out in February, Desna were in seventh position.
Chernihiv is close to the Belarus border in the north, and by March, Russian forces had completely surrounded it. In April the Russians withdrew, but now Desna’s Yuri Gagarin Stadium stadium needs rebuilding work after being badly damaged.
Oleksandr Drambayev is a 21-year-old defender who was on loan Mariupol FC from Shakhtar when Russia invaded. For almost three months the city was pounded by the Russian military, and left in total ruin. “Mariupol FC doesn’t exist now”, said Drambayev.
At the time of was breaking out, the young player had been in Europe, and was told to stay there. he now plays for Belgian side Zulte Waregem on loan, but said: “I miss Mariupol with all my heart. I’d fallen in love with the city. We had a beautiful pitch, it was just recently done with new grass. I brought my Mariupol shirt here and wear it”.
He added: “It’s an act of bravery to restart football in Ukraine. I’m happy about it, but at the same time, I’m very worried”.
Goalkeeper Denys Sydorenko plays for Metalist 1925 Kharkiv. It is impossible for the club to return to its home as Kharkiv has also been targeted by the Russian missile strikes. “My heart aches when I think of Kharkiv. A missile hit our training ground – there’s nothing left of where we used to play”, the 33-year-old explained.
Sydorenko has been training with his Metalist 1925 teammates 1,300 miles away from Kharkiv, in the city of Uzhhorod, located close to the Slovakian border. “When the players met up again we talked about everything – where everyone was when the war started, what they were doing. Now, we are working hard at training. We want to make our fans happy and win every match”, he assured, as reported by bbc.com.
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