Foreign players, air raid shelters… How the Ukrainian league resumes this month

How do you play under the bombs, with the fear in the stomach of being the target? And how do you organize a national championship in a war-torn country? At a time when all the European Championships are departing for a new season, the resumption of the Ukrainian Premier League is not of the same kind as the invasion by Russia that began in late February continues. But the Ukrainian authorities have decided: the new season of “football championship starts on August 23Ukraine’s Youth and Sports Minister confirmed in mid-July. A shocking announcement that raises some questions as the conditions for this return become clearer.

How are the competitions organised?

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It seems a bit moon-like. Where Ukrainian football clubs decided on April 26 to end the previous season, which was suspended in February due to the Russian offensive, the championship will therefore resume this month. With all the limitations that this entails in a country at war. So, as Andrew Todos, journalist of Ukrainian origin who founded the specialized site Zorya Londonsk about Ukrainian football, explained to us, several rules were drawn up before this resumption:

  • Matches are played without spectators
  • Competitions are only held in the Kiev region and Western Ukraine
  • Every stadium should have a bomb shelter
  • The military administrations will have to pre-approve whether the competition can be held.

And if, despite this last precaution, an attack does occur during a match, the situation has been thought out. “During air raids, matches are interrupted and players, coaches and staff must quickly get to the shelter“says the minister. A tough context but which does not cool the courageous people who are ready to resume their activity: “The footballers can’t wait to get back on the field and do their daily workpushes us Andrew Todos. They want to give Ukrainians some peace of mind by bringing some professional sport into people’s lives“.

The Shakhtar squad for a friendly in July 2022

Credit: Getty Images

Will there be clubs missing?

It is not surprising that the championship cannot be resumed with the same protagonists. Some clubs will therefore not be in the game for various reasons. “FC Mariupol withdrew from the coming season due to the occupation of their cityFor example, notes the founder of Zorya Londonsk. A port city in southeastern Ukraine devastated by weeks of bombing, Mariupol is today in the hands of the Russians.

Other clubs, such as Desna Tchernihiv, who appeared in the 2020-2021 Europa League, have been forced to stay on the ground as their infrastructure has been damaged by attacks by Vladimir Putin’s forces. “The Yuri Gagarin stadium in Desna Chernihiv was almost completely destroyed. There are huge craters in the ground”, says Andrew Todos again. Two weight absent.

Will there be foreign players?

After the start of the Russian invasion, many foreign players logically left the country to seek shelter, themselves and their families. FIFA then made it possible for foreign players and coaches who play in Ukraine and Russia to sign contracts elsewhere without waiting for the official transfer window. A derogation last month extended until June 30, 2023. Inevitably, therefore, they will not all return despite the resumption of the Ukrainian Championship.

Foreigners playing in Ukraine in a few months are even exceptions. “Less than 20 foreign players returned to Ukrainian clubs for the new season”says Andrew Todos of Zorya Londonsk. Many have taken advantage of FIFA’s contract suspension. This means that most Ukrainian clubs now have mainly Ukrainian teams. Shakhtar in particular looks unrecognizable with all their Brazilians not coming back.”

What about the players or coaches involved in the fights?

Since the beginning of the conflict and the Russian aggression, many athletes or coaches have taken a stand. Some have even taken up arms to defend their country. And footballers are no exception to the rule. So what are they going to do with this recovery? “A few players were involved in the fighting. For example, Andriy Bohdanov (FC Kolos) has been in the territorial defense since the early days and is still a member of the army todaye, our Ukrainian football specialist answers. This oneduring, it was mainly the trainers who were more directly involved in the fights“.

The most famous ? Yuriy Vernydub. The person who had put down the feat of arms together with Sheriff Tiraspol in the group stage of the Champions League on the lawn of Real Madrid (2-1) last September, has been part of the armed forces since his departure from the Moldovan club. And once he has regained his seat on a bench, he has no intention of letting go of his country’s defenses. “He is now the coach of FC Kryvbassays Andrew Todos. He will now work part-time between training and his military commitments.”

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