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Ukraine goes to the football field to resist the gloom of war and lift people’s spirits

The decision to resume football as Russia bombs eastern Ukraine preparing to seize control of the industrial heartland of Donbass comes at a time when morale among Ukrainians is likely to be at an all-time low.

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Life goes on, we know, but living life as usual in the midst of war becomes an act of resistance in itself. Four months after the Russian invasion, Ukraine is preparing to kick off its new football season from next month. Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Gutsai said on Monday: “The Ukrainian football championship will start on August 23. We have agreed to work out the procedure for organizing and holding competitions under martial law.”

It will be a rather surreal spectacle. Players competing in destroyed football stadiums under vigilant surveillance will rush to shelter with coaches and other staff in the event of an attack. It will be an ominous reminder of the times of Covid when matches were played without spectators, a resounding silence echoing through the stadiums – except perhaps in the case of Ukraine, chances are the silence will be broken by an air raid.

Writing on Facebook, the minister informed that the matches would be held under military presence and would follow all security arrangements.

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Notably, Ukraine celebrates its Flag Day on August 23.

Ukrainian football has been suspended since the outbreak of war on February 24, 2022. The last games were played in December before a winter break, according to reports. The last football season was interrupted by the war. AFP reports that Ukrainian football clubs decided in April to end the previous season soon after the Russian invasion. At that time, Shakhtar Donetsk led Dynamo Kyiv by two points but no title was awarded.

The decision to resume football as Russia bombs eastern Ukraine preparing to seize control of the industrial heartland of Donbass comes at a time when morale among Ukrainians is likely to be at an all-time low. Even as Ukraine prepares for a larger Russian assault, its troops are weary, holding on despite being outgunned and outnumbered.

It is in a nod to this spirit of determination and also to boost the morale of the nation which has suffered relentless bombardment that the Ukrainian authorities have taken up the call to resume football – the game that unites, inspires and especially at this time – distracted.

A return to the football field would give Ukrainians reason to rejoice after months (in addition to the gains made by Kyiv against Moscow’s military superiority). Football brings back a sense of normalcy – an experience that is taken for granted and forgotten by a generation of Ukrainians in the throes of protracted conflict.

Sports Minister Vadym Gutsai said: “It is very important to resume football, like other national championships, in Ukraine. We continue to compete and encourage. We keep fighting and winning. Ukrainian sport will be victorious on all fronts and cannot be prevented from progressing.

Yet when players enter the stadiums, or what remains of them, the ravages of war will be there for all to see. Much of Ukrainian football infrastructure, including stadiums and training grounds, was destroyed by Russian attacks.

On June 28, for example, a Russian missile strike on the southern city of Mykolaiv hit its central stadium which was upgraded last year with new furniture, technical equipment, computers and a new heated pitch. on the ground. Everything was destroyed when an impact left a crater 5 meters deep and 15 meters wide in the middle of the lawn.

Furious citizens, including footballers, condemned Russia’s arbitrary attack, but troops did not spare public infrastructure by launching a full-scale “military operation” in the country. Residential buildings and supermarkets were also attacked.

In an effort to get children out of the confines of their homes and into playing again, a stadium near the capital Kyiv opened earlier this month. This had also suffered heavy damage as the Russians advanced towards the outskirts of the city, but the debris and shrapnel were later removed by volunteers, including coaches from Champion Stadium. The holes in the tar left by the mortar shells have now been filled. But the bullet marks on the stadium walls are a grim reminder of what is happening on the country’s eastern border. Even so, seeing children returning to play is a welcome sight in bombed-out Ukraine. And football could very well be the antidote to emotional exhaustion nationwide.
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