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Zinchenko's pride at Ukraine restarting football

Oleksandr Zinchenko with a Ukraine flag

August traditionally sees football fans filled with excitement as a new season kicks off, but for Oleksandr Zinchenko, the start of the 2022/23 Ukrainian Premier League will also stir up another emotion - pride.

Last night saw the first official game take place in the country since the Russian invasion six months ago, as Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 Kharkiv were the first teams to take to the field in an act of defiance and an attempt to raise the spirits of a nation still gripped by war.

Precautions include matches only taking place in Kyiv and in the west of the country, and in stadiums that can accommodate bomb shelters. No fans will be in attendance, and not just the referee’s whistle can bring play to a halt, with air raid sirens installed to warn of imminent danger.

Despite all this, Oleksandr feels the resumption of the Ukrainian league is vital to bring about a semblance of normality, and boost morale in a country that has shown incredible strength in the face of horrors.

Reflecting on yesterday’s kick-off, he said: “It’s important for the country and all Ukrainian people because nobody was ready for this situation. People are still suffering and we need to fight every single day everywhere, but we need to keep going, live our lives and carry on.

Oleksandr Zinchenko celebrates for Ukraine

“People deserve the lives they had before. I’d like to say a massive thanks to the Ukrainian federation, and president Zelensky who said we needed to play our competition in Ukraine. I know it’s not going to have the best facilities but we need to keep going and that’s the most important thing for all Ukrainians. I can’t wait and I’ll watch all the games if it’s possible.”

The start of the new season has been launched to coincide with today’s Independence Day in Ukraine, and as captain of the national team, Oleksandr has huge respect for those brave players trying to bring entertainment and escapism back into people’s lives.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine how it’s going to be,” he added. “There could be a siren and the players need to stop at some point, but it’s so important to show the rest of the world that the Ukrainian people don’t give up, and in any situation, they carry on. It’s all about our people.”

Since arriving at the club this summer, our supporters have taken Oleksandr to their hearts, as have fans of other clubs due to the courage he shows by speaking freely about the conflict, and being a flagbearer for his nation during their time of need. He admits he has been taken aback by the warmth he has been shown.

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I have to say a massive thanks again. I’m so grateful for the warm welcome from everyone, and I love them.”

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