Yuriy Vernydub was celebrating wildly at the Bernabeu 6 months ago. His Sheriff Tiraspol squad had just beaten Real Madrid 2-1 in one of the great Champions League upsets.
It was a watershed moment for the Moldovan league champions, who hail from Transnistria, a separatist republic heavily influenced by Russia.
A win over the 13-time European champions was hard to believe for a team that had to go through four rounds of qualification to get to the group stage and did so on a budget of around £5 million each year.
Sheriff were in Portugal for a Europa League knockout game just over a week ago, on Thursday, February 24th, after finishing third in their Champions League group.
Yuriy Vernydub and his teammates landed in Braga on Wednesday to prepare for the match, and he went to bed hoping for a restful night’s sleep as they prepared to defend a 2-1 first-leg lead.
The 56-year-life old’s would then change forever in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“At 4:30 a.m., my son called to inform me that the Russians had attacked us. I knew I’d return to Ukraine to fight at that point.“Yuriy Vernydub
We traveled back to Romania and landed in Iasi. On Friday evening, I took the bus to Tiraspol, Transnistria, with the rest of the crew, and left for Ukraine first thing on Saturday morning. On Sunday, I enrolled. It took me 11 hours to drive from Tiraspol to my home in Ukraine, via Odessa, Kirovgrad, Kryvyy Rih, and Zaporoje, but it wasn’t tough.
I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. As I returned home, I noticed a large number of powerful guys fleeing the country. I’ll be satisfied if they return. I understand they moved to Moldova, Romania, and other countries with their families. Many men from Kharkov, Zaporoje, Lugansk, and Donetsk have departed our area. That’s when I realized I couldn’t do the same thing. I promised myself that as soon as I got home, I’d enroll.
People close to me attempted to dissuade me. My family consists of my wife, children, and grandchildren. I stayed strong, and I appreciate my wife’s support. She is familiar with my persona. I won’t change my mind once I’ve made a decision.
We could have gone to Moldova, and my children, their wives, and my grandkids still have the option. But my wife and I will undoubtedly remain here.
Right now, I believe I’m close to the conflict. The most intense clashes are likely 120 kilometers distant from where we are. But, because I made my decision, everything is OK. I’m not afraid at all.
When I was younger, I served in the army for two years since it was required of me. However, it was in a sportsmen’s unit. We were given theory instruction for two months before learning how to use a rifle. That was, however, a long time ago. I don’t have any problems with firearms because I know how to use them.
The crowd around me is insane. Of course, in a good manner. It’s fantastic to be a part of such a group. There are a variety of characters in this scene. They are, nonetheless, united, amicable, and highly motivated. Everything we have is shared between the two of us. Everything appears to be in order from this perspective. It’s also great that so many people wanted to snap photos with me.
I met a nephew here, but other than that, I have no idea who is here and who isn’t. My older brother is in his sixties. My youngest son is unable to fight due to his condition. My oldest son is absent because I asked that he stay at home with his two young children. I have no doubt that if he is needed, he will show up.
I’m not authorized to say what my military job entails. Now we’re being told what to do. We are prepared to travel anywhere they direct us at any time. I have not yet utilized my weapon, but I am always prepared. Anytime is ok.
I’m baffled by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his entourage. And I’m baffled by the Russians who aren’t opposed to him. Many Russian civilians, I understand, are unaware of what is going on. Things are depicted in Russia in a somewhat different light than they are in the United States.
They claim to be releasing us. But what are you protecting yourself from? They called us fascists and Nazis… I’m at a loss for words to convey what they’re up to. They’re striking civilian residences, but they’re just claiming to have targeted military infrastructure. They are deceiving you.
I am confident that Ukraine will prevail in this conflict. Nothing else comes to mind. That is something I am certain of. This catastrophe, in my opinion, brought us together as a nation.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has my complete respect. Regardless of what they say about him. I cast my vote for him. People called him a clown, yet he proved himself to be a true leader.
He is truthful. He made mistakes as well, but that is to be expected of everyone. I can image how difficult it is to be the leader of a country. He is, without a doubt, a good man. We now have a president who will act responsibly. I have faith in him.
Only when we win, I believe, will there be peace. Russia’s expectations, in my opinion, are unattainable. We are not going to back down. There is a need for conversation, but we will not comply with their demands. We see conversations taking place, and I hope they have the foresight to put an end to the conflict. First and foremost, I wish that no more children or women will perish. This is the most crucial point.
I’d like to express my gratitude to the rest of Europe for their support. A large number of children and women emigrated to other nations. I am grateful to those countries for their assistance. I appreciate everyone’s support. I’m sure they’re facing a difficult decision as well. They are recognizing, I believe, that Ukraine is currently the continent’s shield.
Football is still on my mind all the time. My life revolves around football. I’ve been playing it since I was a child, became a professional player, and then became a coach. I am confident that I will continue to manage and win trophies.
I couldn’t have imagined this when we beat Real Madrid. At the beginning of February, I began to have my concerns. That’s when the focus on this issue became more intense. I began to get concerned on February 14th. The players kept asking me why I was always gloomy. Is there anything wrong with me? Nothing is wrong, I kept saying, but something will be shortly. They kept claiming it wouldn’t happen, but I had a feeling it would.
I’ve received phone calls from some of the Sheriff’s deputies, as well as voice messages. They inquired about my family and children’s well-being. Sheriff won a league game against a competitor on March 1st. That is very appreciated. Some instructors also offered me encouraging messages.
I get energized when I think about football. My life revolves around football. I’m hoping that this conflict will be short-lived. We’ll triumph, and I’ll return to my cherished job.