11/30 02:59 CST In Ukraine, seeing World Cup, playing soccer pose challenges
In Ukraine, seeing World Cup, playing soccer pose challenges
By JAMEY KEATEN
IRPIN, Ukraine (AP) --- Ukrainian video-game vendor Roman Kryvyi, fresh from a
soccer game on a snow-blanketed field in suburban Kyiv, sat up close to a TV in
a kebab shop as intermittent city power returned just in time for Tuesday's
World Cup game between Wales and England.
For the 22-year-old soccer buff, there was no question about which side to
support in the matchup: He remembers how he was crestfallen --- rolling on the
floor in despair and on the verge of tears --- when Wales ousted his beloved
Ukraine in the qualifiers. The grudge hasn't worn off.
"Only England! England has supported us in a military way," Kryvyi said,
overlooking the fact that England and Wales are both part of the United Kingdom
--- whose government has generously backed Ukraine with firepower and other
support as it tries to repel Russia's invasion. He wants England to go all the
With their team not having made the finals this year, many Ukrainian soccer
fans are throwing their support behind European countries that have backed
Ukraine's fight against Moscow's forces, or teams with greats like Portugal's
Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi of Argentina. Others just want to see
top-notch play, out of appreciation for the game.
For Ukrainians these days, soccer trails well behind mere survival in the order
of priorities. But the sport --- as in many places around the world --- can
offer an escape from the troubles of daily life. For players, running around a
field can offer up camaraderie and churn up body heat, and in this
war-battered, says simply: Life must go on. Watching the World Cup in Qatar
gives a sense of connection to the rest of the world.
Like many fans in Ukraine, Kryvyi and teammate Hlib Kuian, 21, were far from
certain that they would be able to see the England-Wales match. Russian
military strikes in recent weeks have devastated power plants, rendered
internet services uncertain and affected basics like water and heating --- on
top of the deaths and injuries they have caused.
Only minutes before Tuesday evening's match, which England ended up winning
3-0, Mazza Cafe kebab-stand operator Mashrabjan Haydarov spotted that the
lights had come back on in an apartment building across the street, so he
turned off the generator outside that had been powering his bulbs and TV, and
switched back to the local grid.
Then, even though the electricity was back, the internet popped off
momentarily. The friends, accustomed to daily setbacks large and small,
shrugged off the delay until the service rebooted. They also had to return home
right when the match was set to end because of an 11 p.m. wartime curfew.
"In my house. I have no internet, so it's a big problem for me," said Kuian, an
economics student. The only alternative to going out to see the match, he said,
was watching it on his mobile phone's small screen.
For all their interest in watching the World Cup, Kuian and Kryvyi prefer being
on the field themselves.
As night fell, their team joined up with two others on a fenced-in field in a
public park in Irpin, a town that Russian forces occupied earlier this year ---
and their pullout exposed suspected atrocities committed against civilians.
In yet another sign of the Ukrainian resourcefulness that has become legendary
in their war-battered country, the teams purchased and strung up lights to
illuminate the field, and powered them up with an old --- and recharged --- car
battery on the sideline. One player got up on a motorized scooter to shovel off
the field, as snowflakes continued to fall.
Time was that they would have preferred to play in Irpin's larger stadium, but
it was pockmarked by craters and a nearby cultural center gutted as Ukrainian
and Russian forces battled for control of the town.
As for the obstacles to soccer-playing, electricity shortages and other woes,
Kuian is taking them in stride.
"I have to live with it. I know who made this (happen)," he said. "I know that
the Russian Federation wants that I live like this."
Vasilisa Stepanenko in Irpin, Ukraine, contributed to this report.