Ukraine’s soccer victory provides welcome distraction from tragedy of war

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians have expressed pride and gratitude toward their men’s national soccer team for qualifying for the European Championship, a rare bit of good news and a welcome distraction from the war with Russia.

Though celebrations after Ukraine’s 2-1 win over Iceland were muted as Russian missiles kept raining down on the country, the team’s success gives Ukrainians something to cheer for this summer when the tournament kicks off in Germany.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday night’s victory in the decisive playoff stirred emotions throughout the country and proved that “whenever Ukrainians face difficulties but do not give up and continue to fight, Ukrainians certainly win.”

Russia Ukraine War

Children warm up during a soccer training session in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 27, 2024. Ukraine, Georgia and Poland are going to the 2024 European Championship after bringing late drama to win emotional qualifying playoffs on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Mykhailo Mudryk scored the winning goal as Ukraine came back from a goal down to beat Iceland in Poland. The team had to play its qualifying matches outside Ukraine because of the war.

Youth players at the Sporting Kyiv football academy in the Ukrainian capital on Wednesday said they were inspired.

“(It) shows that war does not stop us from pursuing sports, and we can qualify for the European Championship and compete in it,” said 12-year-old Hlib Kochetov.

Artem Mykhailenko, 15, said that seeing Ukraine compete at Euro 2024 will be a moment of pride for the entire nation.

“We need to show what we are truly worth, who we are, and that we are Ukraine, that Ukraine is a great, united, and strong country in many respects,” he said.

Trying to live life as normally as possible has become a way for Ukrainians to show defiance amid Russian missile strikes and drone attacks.

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Keeping youth active in sports and other activities is also a way to keep their minds off a war that has deeply traumatized families across the country, said Anatolii Kartashov, a coach at Sporting Kyiv.

“They have dreams, they set goals for themselves. Many of them want to become professional footballers, so this is a very positive event,” the 36-year-old Kartashov said.

Ukraine will face Belgium, Slovakia and Romania in the group stage of the Euro 2024 tournament. First up is Romania on June 17 in Munich.



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