While the war plays its own game between Russia and Ukraine, a new Soccer league season for the Ukrainian Premier League will kick off on Tuesday in Kyiv with the goal of restoring some sense of normal life.
The elegant Olympic Stadium has staged the biggest European soccer games in the past decade though none as poignant as the opening-day meeting of Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 from Kharkiv — teams from eastern cities that are fighting for their very existence.
Although the game would be played with no fans and in an empty stadium due to the risk of air strikes or bombs.
The league returns with its heavy meaning as Tuesday is Ukraine’s national flag day and Wednesday i.e Aug.24 is the celebration of independence from control by Moscow that the former Soviet Union republic declared in 1991.
No competitive soccer has been played in Ukraine since mid-December when the league paused for a scheduled midwinter break. The Russian military invasion started one day earlier than the league and the games were due to resume on February 25
The games will be played in and around the capital Kyiv and further West. It will be streamed domestically and abroad on Youtube and the deal broadcaster Setanta.
Bomb shelter, Military, and Goalpost
This extraordinary season comes along with its logistical challenges that include the risk of air strikes or bombings. Bomb shelters have been mandatory in each stadium. Military officers would be present in every match. Also, the players must be rushed to bomb shelters if air-raid sirens sound.
“We have rules in case of an alarm and we have to go underground,” Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.“But I think the teams, the players will be proud of this event. “We are ready, we are strong and I think we will show to all the world Ukrainian life and will to win,” the national-team veteran added.
Maripul FC does not exist now
In the state of brutal destruction and the Russian seizure of the cities, Desna Chernihiv and FC Mariupol have been replaced in the 16-team league. FC Mariupol’s future has been completely thrown into question.
Oleksandr Drambayev who used to play for the Mariupol FC till the invasion happened, broke down in an interview with the BBC while saying “Maripul FC does not exist now”. Just 15 minutes before boarding his flight back to his homeland he got to know about the invasion. The 21-year-old still feels the same for his home team and with all his heart he expressed his cantonment of this start of the new league.
“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 wore it. 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”, said Drambayev
(Inputs from PTI)