The West must stick with Ukraine or it could be next to face Russian aggression, Ukrainian football’s star player Oleksandr Zinchenko has warned.
“Maybe some people have fatigue,” Zinchenko said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with POLITICO. “But our mission is just don’t give up. We have to keep going. We have to fight until the very end until we’re going to win this.”
“Today’s Ukraine, right?” Zinchenko added. “We have to stick together because tomorrow it could be your country.”
Zinchenko, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premier League, and Andriy Shevchenko, a legendary Ukrainian striker who played for Dynamo Kyiv and AC Milan, were speaking to promote a fundraising “Game4Ukraine” football match that will be played in London in August.
The Ukrainians say that a host of star global names will be invited to play, to keep the world’s focus on the country as it struggles under ongoing bombardment from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army. The charity match, Zinchenko added, will send a “powerful message for the rest of the world. That we stick together.”
It’s been “painful every single day” since the Russian full-scale invasion began more than 15 months ago, said Zinchenko, who was deeply affected by a visit earlier Wednesday to a school that had been bombed by Putin’s forces.
“Today when I’ve seen all these buildings, like classes, which have been destroyed by Russian bombs, it gives me another motivation to work even harder to rebuild it,” he said. And this is “just one school I’ve seen today — what about the other, like, 800?”
The Mykhailo-Kotsyubinsky school, in Ukraine’s Chernihiv region, was devastated by Russian missiles during a 33-day occupation in the war’s early days. Around 100 people hid in the school to shelter from Moscow’s barrage. Now more than a year on, the charity match has been organized — with the help of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s influential fundraising platform United24, which is selling tickets for the game — to rebuild the school.
The Russian army “traumatize” a lot of children, Shevchenko said, after hearing first-hand accounts from kids about the Kremlin’s troops barging into peoples’ homes with guns. It’s a “tough challenge,” but Shevchenko said it was essential to shield Ukraine’s younger generation from the effects of Russian aggression.
Shevchenko — who has been in Ukraine often since the Russian assault began — added that his “main focus” has been to keep the world’s attention on Ukraine “every chance” that he gets.
For Zinchenko, who lives in London, the trip home has been an eye-opener: “It’s completely different when you see all this news from your phone or your laptop — or you see everything [with] your eyes.” It brought home, he said, the reality of what Russia’s war is doing to Ukraine’s “poor kids,” who are having their childhoods thrown into turmoil.
“We don’t have any choice; we have to carry on. We have to defend our country and we never give up,” said Shevchenko.
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