Main menu


Ukrainian Premier League to resume: 'Courageous move, but worries'

Artillery or missile strike crater in the middle of Desna's pitch
Desna Chernihiv was 7th in the table when last season was canceled

“It breaks my heart to think about Kharkov,” said goalkeeper Denis Sidorenko. “A missile hit our training ground – there’s nothing left where we were playing.”

On 22nd February, Sidorenko’s team, Metalist 1925 Kharkov, took part in a regular training session during the Ukrainian Premier League’s winter break. After 2 days everything stopped. Russia invaded.

Six months into the war, Ukraine is gearing up to resume domestic football competition despite the constant dangers posed by the ongoing conflict.

The decision to cancel the rest of the 2021-22 season was made final in April. Shakhtar Donetsk were leading by two points just over half the game.

In July, we received word that a new election campaign would begin on August 23 (Ukrainian Flag Day), following the order of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“The resumption of football is a big step for the country,” said Andriy Pavelko, president of the Ukrainian Football Association.

“This is a sign to the world that Ukraine can and will win. It is also a sign to society that we are confident.”

Since the Russian invasion, many teams have relocated to cities such as Lviv in the western part of the country, considered safer than other areas that have been more heavily targeted. Dynamo Kyiv are among those planning to play in or around the capital.

Sidorenko’s team has been training in Uzhgorod, on the border with Slovakia, about 1,300 kilometers from the city they call home.Parts of Kharkov have been completely devastated by the war, and the inhabitants Comparing it to Chernobyl.

Sidorenko, 33, who fled to western Ukraine with his girlfriend in February, said: “When the players reunited, we talked about everything. Where was everyone when the war started? What were you doing,” he said. they got married soon after.

“I am training hard now. I want to please the fans and win every match.”

Ukrainian FA president Pavelko said discussions were ongoing with the Ministry of Defense on how best to organize matches this season. Approved stadiums will be equipped with air defense sirens and bunkers.

“It’s good for all leagues to play. This will lift everyone’s spirits,” he said.

Anna Mironchuk, who plays for Dynamo Kyiv’s women’s team, said her team is excited about the possibility of football returning. – even for a short time.

“For every player, it’s a great pleasure to come back on the field and play, score goals and win,” she says.

“But then I go back to my phone and watch the news to see what happened.”

Desna shell damaged football stadium
The two teams that played in last season’s canceled campaign will be ineligible for 2022-23.

After the Russian invasion, many of Mironchuk’s teammates were forced to live in bunkers for two weeks.

“Nobody knew how football would turn out,” says Dynamo women’s coach Volodymyr Petrenko.

“But the coach never left us. He paid us. We gave lessons on Zoom and gave players individual tasks. had a yoga teacher, but of course, training alone isn’t the same.”

In the months that followed, the Dynamo men’s team, as well as Shakhtar and the national team, played a series of friendly matches abroad to raise money for the Global Tour for Peace.

“In the first game, after the national anthem, some people cried,” said Shakhtar goalkeeper Anatoly Trubin, who played for Ukraine twice.

“Shakhtar raised me and I am always happy when I wear Shakhtar shirts.”

Shakhtar was forced to leave the eastern city of Donetsk when fighting with pro-Russian separatists broke out in 2014, and has already spent eight years in exile because of the conflict. Donetsk is now on the front lines of a war with Russia.

They were leading the league table when last season was cancelled, so Shakhtar have already earned a place in the group stage of this year’s Champions League, with Dynamo wanting to join them and SC. Dnipro 1 could reach the Europa League.

UEFA has called for the Ukrainian team’s home match in the European competition to be held outside the country.Dynamo will play the first leg of the qualifying playoffs against Benfica in Poland on Wednesday.

But while some teams are already back in the thick of it, two of last year’s top-flight clubs are unlikely to return any time soon.

Desna Chernihiv was seventh in the table when Russia invaded in February. Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine near the border with Belarus, was completed by March and surrounded by Russian troops.

The city was under siege day and night, trapping tens of thousands of people.Some people use private buildings and residential areas deliberately targeted.

Desna’s home ground, once known as the Yuri Gagarin Stadium after the famous Soviet cosmonaut, suffered extensive damage. Members of the coaching team took up arms and joined the city’s defense, while the club helped fund thermal imaging equipment and drones. Russian troops withdrew in his early April, but there is much work to be done to rebuild.

Oleksandr Drambaev was playing for Mariupol FC when the invasion happened. After nearly three months of persistent attacks, the city was left in ruins and is now in Russian hands.

“Mariupol FC does not exist now,” said the 21-year-old defender who was on loan from Shakhtar.

Drambayev was abroad when Russian tanks crossed the border for the first time in February. Just 15 minutes before he boarded his plane back to Ukraine, he was informed that his country had been invaded.

Other teammates began sending messages that missiles hit buildings near their homes. reality hit. he won’t be back He was told to find a new team and is currently on loan at Belgian side Zulte Waregem. However, he still misses his former club.

“I really miss Mariupol,” he says.

“I was in love with the city.

“Resuming football in Ukraine is a courageous act. I am happy, but at the same time very worried.”

Additional reporting by Svitlana Libet