Ukraine are set to play England in the soccer European Championship Qualifying on Sunday 26th March.
Ukraine remains at war with Russia and as a nation, they are dreaming of a victory against England as a welcome distraction from the war.
Over 1000 tickets have been given to Ukrainian citizens along with British families who have taken in Ukrainian refugees.
“Football is still the number one sport in Ukraine and it’s helping people cope with what they’re going through,” former Ukraine striker and manager Andriy Shevchenko told BBC Sport. “The league was kept alive, a few teams made it in Europe, that helped a lot.”
Shevchenko, who is a Ballon d’Or winner and scored 48 goals in 111 appearances for his country, has been assisting with the humanitarian aid effort from his residence in London.
“England has been extraordinarily supportive over the past year. They have shown solidarity and kindness,” he said. “I think the atmosphere will be very emotional and warm toward the Ukrainian fans and the team. From the UK government to the civil society, we’ve been shown big support since the start of the war.
“I’m going to the match, it will surely be a great day for our nations. I had a shock on the first day of the war, it was impossible for me to believe that it was actually happening. After the Russian troops left Bucha, I was also in shock, seeing the horrors of war, the crimes. We’ve been through so many terrible moments since February last year.
“England is strong, but our team is ready to show what it’s made of. It’s surely going to be a special day. There’s no good or bad moment to face England, as they are very strong no matter what. But our players don’t need extra motivation. They know why they’ll be on the pitch.”
Former Ukrainian left-back Vyacheslav Shevchuk said he is finding life in Ukraine challenging just now.
“It’s really tough in Ukraine these days,” the 43-year-old said. “The entire world knows that we are under attack, that missiles are flying in from everywhere. Football is a way of showing that we still have life inside, that we deserve to live and have a peaceful life.
“I’m under a lot of stress, I’m worried for my family, for my children. My wife and my kids are far away from me, they are living in Europe. They are Ukrainian refugees like the other few million. We hope to defeat the enemy so our people can come back home.
“Teams train how they can. The players need to hide in trenches, in tunnels, when the air alarms can be heard. Games are put on hold. The stress is immense, we don’t want this to go on. We hope we’ll be back to normal after defeating the enemy.
“It’s hard to develop our football during these times, but we go on, we still want to face the best. We have a lot of youngsters in our side and Shakhtar even made it to the advanced stages of the Europa League this year.”
Igor Belanov, who was the first Ukrainian to win the Ballon d’Or in 1986, remains positive about the England match.
“Millions of Ukrainians are waiting for a win. I apologize to England fans, but we need this victory more than they do,” he said. “Football is a religion that unites Ukraine. It’s difficult for people in Europe to understand this, but even during the war, soldiers, medical workers, volunteers – they want to feel the taste of a peaceful life at least for a moment.
“The game versus England is one of the few opportunities to switch from war to sport for at least two hours. I expect victory, of course. What other options can there be? Soldiers in their trenches await victory. And their children, parents, or brothers want that as well. The whole country dreams of a win at Wembley.
“Football is the game of millions – it brings them back to peaceful times. For normal people, who one day were drivers, managers, sportsmen, or IT workers, everything changed. They had a life, plans, and hobbies. All of this suddenly ended and they needed to train in the army and went to war.
“Our players spend more time hiding from missiles than training, the sessions are interrupted all the time in Ukraine. Every day, the enemy destroys infrastructure, fires missiles at us, and kills people. This gets to your brain, to your soul and it doesn’t leave fast.
“I want to watch a beautiful game, full of emotions and events. That concludes with our victory, of course.”
Ukraine arrived in the UK on Tuesday and are currently using Brentford FC’s training facilities ahead of the England game.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: LUKE MOCHERMAN
PHOTO CREDIT: 7SPORT
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