Written by 16:19 World

Ukraine’s Soldiers Cheer National Soccer Team in Euro 2024

They had won one battle, and then sat to watch a battle of a different kind. Eight Ukrainian National Guard soldiers who had helped stall a Russian offensive in the northern Kharkiv region of Ukraine took the afternoon off on Monday to watch the men’s national soccer team play its first game of the European Championship.

“Football unites — it gives adrenaline and motivates,” said Evhen, 34, a soldier in the 13th National Guard Brigade who asked to be identified by only his first name, in accordance with military protocol.

The soldiers huddled in a bunker with soft drinks and chips to watch Ukraine play Romania in Munich, only to suffer heartbreak when their team lost by 3-0. But like most Ukrainians, they nonetheless take special pride in their sports team during the war.

“We have one team on the field and a million on the front,” said Andriy Shevchenko, a former soccer star who is Ukraine’s most famous player and now heads the national soccer federation. Like all Ukrainians, he said, “soccer players start their day by opening their phones and checking the situation on the battlefield.”

For the National Guard soldiers, who have been fighting together for more than a year, soccer became a chance to bond in the safety of a basement and cheer their national team. Huddled underground, they watched Ukraine quickly fall behind against Romania.

“At war, we look at things differently,” said a commander who uses the nickname Jackson. “Even now, while watching the game, we understand that at any moment we might have to leave and go into the trenches to fight. We are always ready.”

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Last modified: 18 June 2024
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