Ukraine to Resume Soccer in a Show of Resolve

No fans will attend, and play will stop if air-raid sirens sound
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2022 5:33 PM CDT
Ukraine to Resume Soccer in a Show of Resolve
Bosnia's Amir Hadziahmetovic, front, duels for the ball with Ukraine's Taras Stepanenko during a World Cup qualifying match in Bosnia last November.   (AP Photo)

Under threat of Russian attacks in a war that stopped all soccer in Ukraine in February, a new league season starts 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. No fans will be allowed in the 65,000-capacity downtown stadium for the 1pm local time kickoff, the AP reports, and the players must be rushed to bomb shelters if air-raid sirens sound.

"We have rules in case of an alarm and we should go to be underground," Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said Monday in a telephone interview. "But I think the teams, the players will be proud of this event." The veteran of Ukraine's national team added, "We are ready, we are strong, and I think we will show to all the world Ukrainian life and will to win." The Ukrainian Premier League returns with the blessing of the nation's leaders and in a week heavy with meaning. Tuesday is Ukraine's flag day and Wednesday—Aug. 24—is the celebration of independence from control by Moscow that the former Soviet republic declared in 1991.

No competitive soccer has been played in Ukraine since mid-December, when the league paused for a scheduled midwinter break. Games were due to resume on Feb. 25, until the Russian military invasion started one day earlier. The 16-team league restarts without Desna Chernihiv and Mariupol, teams from cities that have suffered brutal destruction. All games will be played in and around Kyiv and farther west and will be shown domestically, abroad, and on YouTube in a deal with broadcaster Setanta agreed to last week. The total value of $16.2 million over three years is less than some top English Premier League players will earn this season. The concept of home-field advantage may have gone for most teams, though simply playing on Ukrainian soil—other games Tuesday are in Kyiv, Uzhhorod, and Kovalivka—might feel like a victory.

(Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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