In the past three months, Ukraine has been devastated by the Russian invasion. For the footballing community, along with every other in Ukraine, the war’s consequences have been glaring.
With a league spanning the entirety of its independence and the development of its national team, Ukraine’s football has a fighting spirit. Now, more than ever, it is important to recognise Ukrainian identity through sport.
Ukraine Women’s Premier League
Ukraine’s Women’s Premier League (WFPL) follows the trajectory of modern history. Less than a year after the fall of the USSR in 1991, WFPL commenced with enthusiastic participation. By 1993, the league reached its greatest number of teams to date with 13 members.
Zhytlobud-1 and Zhytlobud-2 from Kharkiv have dominated the WFPL for the past decade. Zhytlobud-1 has participated in the Women’s Champions League (UWCL) since 2007, most recently against PSG, Real Madrid and Breidablik in 2021.
In a normal year, the WFPL would run from August until May, with a substantial break during the winter months. There are currently 11 teams in the Premier League.
Throughout the first half of the season, each team plays all the other teams. Depending on results, the league will split into two groups. Those who occupy the first six positions will play a home and away leg to determine league winners. The bottom five will battle to avoid relegation.
This year, the second half of the season did not start due to Russia’s incursion in February. Zhytlobud-2 were top of the table, but the league ended without declaring a winner. The second Kharkiv team will represent Ukraine in the UWCL next season.Embed from Getty Images
Needless to say, the war between Russia and Ukraine has devastated Ukrainian daily life. Although football is simply an entertainment outlet for the average citizen, football is a way of being for many fans. Ukraine’s upwards trajectory of women’s football has been an obvious indicator of their willingness to take pride in culture and the women who uphold it.
After a substantial dip in form in the 2010s, Ukraine narrowly missed out on qualifying for the UEFA Women’s European Championships this summer.
In a somewhat shocking turn of events, Lluís Cortés was hired as head coach in November of last year. The Catalan coach won the UWCL last season with Barcelona and left the team shortly after the term’s end.
The “Zhinky,” are currently preparing for World Cup qualification next year. Ukraine’s decided investment in women’s football, although still in its beginning stages, will hopefully reach fruition in the near future.
The impact of war
As expected, a substantial number of players in Ukraine left due to Russia’s imposing danger. Players moved to countries such as Iceland, Lithuania, Hungary, Sweden, Poland and Spain (courtesy of coach Cortés), in addition to a plethora of other European nations. The majority of players have signed short-term deals, clearly hoping foreign residency to be a temporary solution.
The players of FC Kryvbas are some of many looking for temporary solutions. Behind Zhytlobud-1 and Zhytlobud-2, the Kryvyi Rih team finished third. Although not quite in contention for a UWCL spot, they are the only non-Kharkiv team to leave the first half of the season with a positive goal difference. FC Kryvbas were caught in the airport on the way to play off-season matches in Turkey when Russia bombed their home city.Embed from Getty Images
Germany’s FC Cologne lended support and facilities to the FC Kryvbas. Even without the danger of missiles, the train of thoughts rarely slow. With families in bomb shelters and many risking their lives on the front lines, peace of mind is hard to come by.
Team Captain Anna Ivonova tells British journalist Daniel Storey: “We are extremely proud of the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people… With such unity, we believe that we will be able to defeat the Russian army.”
For Daria Tsikhach, she escaped Ukraine without knowledge of possible impending danger. Daria left her hometown of Vinnytsia for Oslo, Norway in the middle of the night to stay with Tora Lindskog of Fredrikstad Women (FFK).
The Lingskogs offered to help Ukrainians in any way possible, opening themselves up to recieving Ukrainian players. At home, Daria trained six times a week. Now, Daria just wants to play in a competitive match again.
Online paper Fredrikstad Blad, states that the 20-year-old should be able to make her debut for FFK in the coming weeks.
Back to the joy of football
For the first time since the start of the war, Dynamo Club (Kyiv) and SDYUSHOR Uzhhorod were able to play a friendly match. The game went into halftime 2-0 to Dynamo, but the alarm sounded shortly after. Everyone rushed to a basement to find cover. The game ended.
Dynamo Club has been training in Khyriv, a city near the Polish border. Head Coach Volodymyr Pyatenko describes his mission as to keep up the spirits of the players and continue to promote women’s football in Ukraine during this difficult time.
When asked if Ukrainian clubs have kept connection with one another, Pyantenko tells the official website of Dynamo Club that: “There is a connection, I would not like to go into details, but today we are one of the teams that has survived in Ukraine.
“There are clubs that have gone abroad, some clubs have disbanded, some of the players have been rented out.”Embed from Getty Images
For the players of ZhFK Mariupol, the situation is heartbreaking. Kateryna Sivets describes her journey to the Netherlands where her and her mother recently celebrated Easter.
Sivets spent nearly a month in Mariupol after the shelling began. During this month, the city Sivets calls home was destroyed by Russian soldiers. She describes the moment her shelter was bombed as “everything fell asleep.” Currently, no one lives above ground. The citizens of Mariupol are living their lives in underground shelters, taking each moment step by step.
Sivets, although she has made contact with numerous teammates, does not know the exact whereabouts of everyone. It is unknown to Sivets and her teammates whether Polina Polukhina and Olya Avdeeva are unharmed. Sivets herself managed to leave Mariupol with an unexpected act of kindness. A neighbour picking up his relatives and came back to get her and her mother after dropping his family in a safe area.
Sivets is currently playing in the Netherlands for Saestrum Vrowen. She describes her team as a family and a very talented group of individuals. All she wishes for now however, is peace.
Effects on the Ukrainian Women’s National Team
Just two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the “Zhinky” won the Turkish Women’s Cup. Their three wins out of three signify steady progress towards their goal of qualifying for the World Cup in 2023. Although these qualifying matches against Scotland and Hungary are postponed, the Ukrainians will compete as strong as ever in late June.
The venue for the matches lies in Poland, a country of familiar faces for many Ukrainians during this war.
Hungary, Scotland and Spain are ahead of Ukraine on points, but Cortés’ side has two game in-hand. If Ukraine win both of these matches, they will be level with Scotland to compete for the next round of qualifiers. Although the expectation to qualify may be premature, Ukraine are committed to build up their infrastructure surrounding the team regardless of circumstance.Embed from Getty Images
As of now, Ukraine’s U19 team is competing in the second stage of U19 Women’s Euros qualification. The team is competing with internationally based players and is playing against Austria, Norway, and Bulgaria to determine advancement to the next round. As of now, the Ukrainians are still in the first division of teams, grating them a chance at qualifying for the final tournament.
Response of the International Football Community
Both FIFA and UEFA have responded to the crisis. FIFA has amended its policies to allow players in Ukraine (including minors) to sign international contracts outside the transfer window. All Ukrainian players, coaches and additional staff have the ability to end their contract early to find additional means of pay.
The UEFA Foundation for Children has managed to donate over one million euros to help child refugees in Ukraine and neighboring countries. Much of this money supplies children’s hospitals and humanitarian organizations. In addition, 100,000 euros are allocated to the Football Association of Moldova to support Ukrainian refugees inside the country.
The footballing world has certainly banded together to show support through charity games, armbands and stadium lights. At the end of the day, the war in Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis. The Ukrainian people are fighting a war for the sake of their citizens, country and national identity. Football is a source of entertainment for fans, but also a way of building community, making money and finding a creative outlet. Football fans are global citizens who are taking part in promoting a global game accepting of everyone. Listed below are resources to learn more about the situation and ways to help.
Organisations Accepting Donations
Other Ways to Help
- Consult reliable news sources to stay informed and spread awareness. The Kyiv Independent is a great way to start.
- Peaceful protests in your town, village, or city.
- Engage in a local community to learn of other ways to help.