Metalist 1925 from Kharkiv and Shakhtar Donetsk – one city in the east under repeated Russian shelling, the other trying to fend off the invaders’ advance – will meet in a poignant and highly symbolic season opener at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.
Amid the chaos and hardships caused by the war, the clubs will do their part to provide a sense of joy and normalcy under highly erratic circumstances. Neither team plays at home, fans are not allowed into the 65,000-seat stadium in the center of the capital, and when the air-raid sirens go off, the players are rushed to air raid shelters. All matches will be played in the Kiev area or further west away from the fighting.
“We are ready, we are strong and I think we will show the whole world Ukrainian life and the will to win,” Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko told The Associated Press.
The return of the competition, approved by the nation’s leaders, is taking place on the flag of Ukraine and a day before Wednesday’s celebration of independence from the Soviet Union, which the former republic declared in 1991.
The Ukrainian Premier League took its scheduled winter break in mid-December and was set to restart on February 25 – after Russia invaded, forcing games to be canceled as daily life was turned upside down for much of the country.
Football Association chairman Andriy Pavelko said he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “about how important football is to distract. We talked about how it could be possible that football could help us think about the future.”