(NewsNation) — Two Ukrainian teams faced off in Kyiv’s Olympic National Sports Complex on Tuesday in a revival of Ukraine’s spirit and a rebuke of Russia’s attack on the country on the eve of the country’s Independence Day.
The match was sanctioned from the top, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asking for league play to start on Flag Day. The hope was to use football to keep Ukrainians focused on the future and help lift national morale.
However, signs of war were evident.
Both teams, Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925, entered the stadium draped in the Ukrainian flag, and a limping soldier and former player took to the pitch for the ceremonial opening kick. Normally filled with up to 65,000 fans, the stadium was empty.
The show of resistance follows Russia’s February invasion that brought a premature end to last season’s championship. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.
“We take it as a sign of professionalism and a very big responsibility to show the world that life in Ukraine doesn’t stop but goes on,” said Igor Jovicevic, head coach of Shakhtar Donetsk. “Soccer is the thing that moves emotions of all Ukraine and touches those who are fighting for us all.”
The war taking its toll in another way. Historically, Shakhtar Donetsk had a strong core of Brazilian players. But they didn’t stay during the war, so the team is younger and home grown.
“A lot of time has passed and the world is now forgetting about the events going on. I reckon one of our goals is to use the field and the games to remind the whole world that it’s not over yet,” said Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Mykhaylo Mudryk. “There are still atrocities happening in Ukraine.”