Fans absent as Ukraine Premier League restarts in tribute to war dead

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By Martin Graham | 24th Aug 2022

The Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) restarted on Tuesday in Ukraine.

Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 Kharkiv took to the pitch in the opening game played miles away from their homes.

The war between Russia and Ukraine stopped football in the former Russian enclave. As many countries severed relationships with Russia, Ukraine also witnessed a cessation of football activities. The people of Ukraine are fighting for survival while football continues in the rest of the world.

The halt of football activities in Ukraine also led to the country missing out on the World Cup and some of their clubs failing to qualify for European competitions.

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Ukraine is striving to restore normality to the country with some social activities. One of the moves to do this is through football.

Football returns to Ukraine

Despite the efforts by the government to ensure normalcy returns in the country, life in Ukraine is still somewhat far from the usual. There are still stark reminders that the country is at war. There is still a cautious approach to activities as Ukraine continues to defy Russia.

The Ukraine football league kicked off on Tuesday. The opening match took place at the 65,500-seat Olympic stadium in Kyiv. The game saw two teams from the war-torn east of the country lock horns. Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 Kharkiv were in action, but the match was devoid of fans as spectators were not allowed inside the stadium.

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The game ended in a goalless draw, with little importance given to the match. The main takeaway from the game is the significant move to defy Russia.

The first game since the war

Russia invaded Ukraine in February, stopping top-level football activities in the country. On Tuesday, Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 Kharkiv took to the field in the first top-level soccer match in the country since the invasion.

The decision to restart the league has received praise in several quarters as a defiant sign that Ukraine are ready to move on with their life.

The game was abnormal as there were no spectators in the stands. Police stood guard in front of the turnstiles. Weeds have overgrown the stadium.

A ceremony to remember the dead

Shakhtar coach Igor Jovicevic sees the game as proof to the rest of the world that life in Ukraine does not stop but continues.

In a ceremony before the kick-off, players raised the Ukrainian flag. The players walked onto the field with the blue and yellow Ukrainian national flags draped over their shoulders. They also observed a minute silence while displayed on a large screen were the names of the Ukrainian cities where people died due to the war.

Ukraine want to use the return of football to remind the whole world that nothing is over. It is also a reminder of the atrocities going on in Ukraine.

Shakhtar Donetsk qualified automatically for the group stage of the Champions League.

Martin Graham is an MFF sports writer

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