Aug 24, 2022 - Sports

Ukrainian soccer league kicks off six months after Russian invasion

ukrainian premier league teams play in empty stadium
Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

The Ukrainian Premier League kicked off Tuesday at Kyiv's Olympic Stadium as Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 played to a 0-0 draw.

Why it matters: The game, played in an empty stadium, was the first top-level soccer match in Ukraine since Russia invaded six months ago today.

  • Not-so-coincidentally, it took place on Ukraine's Flag Day, ahead of Wednesday's Independence Day.

What they're saying: President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the players — each draped in their nation's colors — via pre-recorded message on the big screen before the game:

"Our flag was on the shoulders of our soldiers when we retook our cities in 2014. It was on the shoulders of our soldiers in 2022 when they took back districts. Our blue-and-yellow flag is going to be flown again in the occupied cities and villages of Ukraine."
"Two colors that we all love. We care about them and will never allow any other colors on our land. We are always ready to defend our flag."

The big picture: Though the game went off without incident, reminders of the atrocities that have befallen the nation of 43 million were ever-present.

  • The match began with a ceremonial kickoff by Yaroslav Golyk, a wounded soldier who walked onto the field with a limp sustained during the siege of Mariupol.
  • The stadium was empty because the nation's capital has banned large public gatherings, fearing Independence Day-related attacks. Teams were also warned they would have to retreat to the stadium's bomb shelter in the event of an air-raid.

The last word: The results of the game were secondary at best to what soccer's return represented.

This is work ... to show the world that life in Ukraine does not stop. It helps to continue living and shows the world that football goes on."
— Shakhtar coach Igor Jovićević

Go deeper: The Ukraine war, six months on

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