Ukraine’s Football team, Shakhtar which was displaced from its original home of Donetsk in 2014, has started their peace-themed tour to bring attention to the plight of war victims and to raise money for the war effort.
Shakhtar Donetsk opened a series of charity games on a government-backed “Global Tour for Peace” with a 1-0 loss against the Greek league leader, Olympiakos. Shakhtar is also set to play Fenerbahace, Hajduk Split and Lechia Gdansk in the tour that is conceptualized to raise money for Ukraine’s military in the war against Russia, and also help Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war.
Shakhtar Donetsk was exiled from their home ground in 2014, when missiles landed on Shakhtar’s stadium. Within days of bombardment, the club packed and headed to a new home in Lviv, then to Kharkiv, before settling in the capital, Kyiv. Former Croatian footballer, Darijo Srna, who has been associated with Shakhtar since 2003 said, “No other team has ever felt or lived what we have in these past eight years.”
As the Russian troops streamed across the border and invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the second half of the Ukrainian Football season was suspended. Shakhtar’s training site in Kyiv was gouged by shelling and training equipment hampered by firing.
Shakhtar’s Ukrainian players, immediately, moved away from Kyiv and relocated to Lviv. But the main concern of Shakhtar’s officials was to safely move dozens of children based in Shakhtar’s youth academy outside Kyiv. Croatian club Hajduk Split, Srna’s first professional club, and Dinamo Zagreb sent their message of willingness to accommodate the boys if they could get to the city.
With the best of Shakhtar’s effort, more than 80 children was moved to Croatia, far from the horrors of war, playing Football again. However, a coach from the academy died after his hometown was overrun by Russian forces in the first phase of the war.
The new season in Ukraine is, for now, scheduled to begin in July. Till then, Shakhtar will play exhibition games for the peace-themed tour. In the first exhibition match they played against Olympiakos, players replaced their names on the back of their jerseys with those of cities bombarded by Russian forces. “The names of those cities, where so many people died, will remain forever in our hearts. The guys were crying in the locker room after the game,” Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko said.
Amoment of silence was held at the start of the match to honour those killed in the conflict. All gate receipts in Athens will be donated to humanitarian concerns in Ukraine and toys were also collected for refugee children.