War fails to dampen enthusiasm of Shakhtar Donetsk

Displaced Ukrainian Champions ready for challenge of Bayern Munich

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano is top scorer in this season’s Champions League.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano is top scorer in this season’s Champions League.

 

The talk in Shakhtar Donetsk’s dressingroom last week was not cars or girls or even football, but rather the ceasefire agreed between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.

As soon as the players gathered for lunch last Thursday, they began discussing the truce and the possibility that peace could come to their club’s hometown, the veteran goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov said. The team have been training in the capital Kiev for their Champions League match against Bayern Munich since Donetsk is under rebel control.

“If people stop dying everyday, we’ll be able to focus on the game,” Pyatov said. “Sometimes you go out to play after hearing on the news that some bus came under fire and people died, and you think about that. It influences you, even if you hide it. Internally you’re not as concentrated. You try to be professional but those thoughts are there all the same.”

The fighting has killed at least 5,400 people over the past 10 months, and shelling continued this week around the besieged town of Debaltseve, calling into question the ceasefire that came into effect on Sunday. The conflict began when protestors seized the regional administration building in Donetsk, denouncing the new pro-Western regime in Kiev as a “fascist junta” and calling on Vladimir Putin to come to their aid. Russia has flooded the region with arms, volunteers and, according to overwhelming evidence, active-duty soldiers to bolster the rebels in their fight against Kiev’s “anti-terrorist operation”.

Damaged by shelling

The team’s €350 million home stadium in Donetsk, which had been built for Euro 2016, was damaged by shelling in August.

Pyatov is from the city of Kirovohrad in central Ukraine but after living and playing there for years Donetsk had become home for him and many of the club’s other players, even the Brazilians. Now his family and the team have had to leave.

The club’s star player and the Champions League top scorer, the Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano, even reiterated his loyalty to Shakhtar despite being linked with a January move to Arsenal, Liverpool or Roma. “It would be nice to have a new challenge but it would be even nicer to stay in Ukraine, at the club that I love,” he said at the time.

Pyatov praised the coach, Mircea Lucescu, for keeping the team intact and choosing to remain in Ukraine, despite an opportunity to move to Galatasaray in Turkey. “No one left the team, and the team is as strong as before, even more so,” he said. “Hardships strengthen your soul, morally and psychologically.”

Asked if it was hard to move from Donetsk, the heart of the country’s mainly Russian-speaking east, to Lviv, a famously nationalist town in the Ukrainian-speaking west, Pyatov said many of the refugees from Donetsk who have resettled there come out to support the team. It has even made some local converts, he said.

Alleviate the mood

Nonetheless, the war continues to touch members of the team. While many of those who stayed in Donetsk are still firmly against the government in Kiev all the Shakhtar players are “for a united Ukraine”.

The team hope to return to Donetsk, Pyatov added. In the meantime, the players remain determined to alleviate the mood in their war-torn country by playing good football.

“Everyone understood that the situation had gotten worse and we needed to leave Donetsk but life didn’t end,” Pyatov said. “The country was drowning in sorrow for a time but we need to play football and distract people from politics and war. Our task is to play and give people hope and good feelings.” Guardian Service

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