Ukrainian Premier League Games Return for First Time Since Russian Invasion

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Ukrainian Premier League resumed in Ukraine on Tuesday, August 23, in an empty Olympic Stadium, with bomb shelters set up and the threat from Russia still present.

Six months after it had been suspended, the Ukraine Premier League resumed in a 0-0 draw between Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist Kharkiv. 

At first, only games in Kyiv, its surroundings, and two western provinces close to the border will be held.

Ukraine players after beating Northern Ireland

The reintroduction of Ukrainian Premier League was promoted by President Volodymyr Zelensky as a morale-boosting act of defiance.

On February 24, one day before the start of the second half of the 2021–22 season, Russia began an all-out invasion of Ukraine.

As the number of fatalities increased on both sides of the war, that season was ultimately canceled.

Since then, Shakhtar has competed in friendlies all over the world to promote peace.

Donetsk draw with Metalist Kharkiv in the opening match of the Ukrainian Premier League coincided with Ukraine’s Day of the National Flag and the start of the domestic 2022–23 season.

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A vehicle explosion on the outskirts of Moscow that killed the daughter of a significant ultra-nationalist political figure has also raised the potential of Russia stepping up its attacks.

Everton players supporting Ukraine

Before the game even started in Kyiv, the impact of the Moscow incident was evident in the atmosphere of Ukraine.

Players from Shakhtar and Metalist, as well as the match officials, emerged from the tunnel draped in Ukrainian flags before forming a line to view President Zelensky’s speech on the stadium’s large screen.

Before the game officially began, some of the players were in tears. A Ukrainian soldier ceremonially kicked off the match.

Ukrainian Premier League
Players putting on Ukraine Flag

As will be the case at every game in the new season, military personnel were there and prepared to transport players and staff to shelters in the event of an air raid.

The game went off without a hitch, with Shakhtar largely controlling it.

The 13-time champions’ midfielder, Mykhailo Mudryk, struck the crossbar, but they were also grateful for goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin’s outstanding first-half save that prevented them from going farther behind.

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A scene of the Ukrainian Premier League.
A scene of the Ukrainian Premier League.

Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said after the game: “For 90 minutes, I shut off and just enjoyed playing football.

“I feel proud because of that.

“Since the day we began preparing for the championship, I had looked forward to this day and was a little bit anxious.

Ukrainian players

“However, when I heard our national anthem and saw my teammates and the opposition, I felt proud of my nation and happy that we had begun our championship because it is significant to our nation and its citizens.”

“We’ve already been in a battle for six months, and I don’t know if it will end tomorrow or if it will last a full year. I’m not sure.

“However, I hope that my nation and its citizens will win this war, allowing our families to return to their homes. I pray for this every day. It’s very essential, it’s my dream, and I pray for this every day.”

After restrictions on transfers out of Ukraine were loosened, many of Shakhtar’s international players left the country.

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Others, like Burkinabe attacker Lassina Traore, have remained.

Lucas Taylor, a Brazilian defender, has even gone the opposite way, starting after joining on loan from Greek club Park on Monday.

The players warmed up in T-shirts supporting the new “Pitch In For Ukraine” campaign, which is aimed at sports fans all around the world, at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium, which served as the site of the Euro 2012 championship.

Without Desna Chernihiv and Mariupol FC, the 16-team league will resume.

After being under siege for about six weeks, Chernihiv, which is close to the Belarusian border, has suffered significant damage, while Mariupol is in ruins and is in Russian hands.

“We are living for this moment,” Shakhtar director of football Darijo Srna said.

“These folks have a right to happiness. They don’t want anything that isn’t rightfully theirs. They aren’t evil, and they aren’t envious.

“They are merely defending themselves, their offspring, and their property.”

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