Ukrainian football club Shakhtar embarks on peace-themed tour
Ukrainian football club Shakhtar Donetsk will play a series of charity matches as part of a government-backed “World Peace Tour” that will raise money for the country’s military in the war against Russia.
The exhausted squad gathered in Turkey to prepare for Saturday’s opener against Greek league leaders Olympiakos. The games will also raise funds for Ukrainian refugees displaced by war.
“Football diplomacy will help us involve millions of fans around the world in helping Ukraine, which is really important,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday. “Through this charity tour, we will continue to draw world attention to Russian aggression against Ukraine and raise more funds for the Ukrainian military.”
Shakhtar are also set to face Fenerbahce, Hajduk Split and Lechia Gdansk, with other opponents yet to be confirmed.
Football clubs across Europe have offered to play matches against Ukrainian clubs and welcome young players after football in the country was shut down during the invasion of Russia in February.
Olympiakos advertised the game as “Football for Peace – Stop the War in Ukraine”. Tickets for the match in Piraeus cost 10 euros ($10.90).
“It will be the opening game of a series of friendly matches that the Ukrainian team will play against the best clubs in Europe and the United States,” said the defending Greek champions.
Shakhtar haven’t played a competitive match since mid-December. On February 26, the league leaders were due to resume the domestic season after a winter break. But two days before their game at Metalist Kharkiv, Russia launched its military invasion and Ukrainian football came to a standstill.
Shakhtar usually provides several players for the Ukrainian national team, which was unable to play in a World Cup qualifier against Scotland two weeks ago.
FIFA wants to organize this match in Glasgow at the beginning of June. The winner will face Wales a few days later for a place at this year’s World Cup in Qatar. FIFA also withdrew Russia from the playoffs.
Shakhtar have relied on a core of Brazilian players to win 13 league titles over the past 20 years and become a regular in the Champions League. In December, Shakhtar finished bottom of a Champions League group which included Real Madrid and Inter Milan.
During the war, FIFA changed transfer rules to allow players from Ukrainian clubs to sign elsewhere. Shakhtar loaned Tetê to Lyon while Junior Moraes, who obtained citizenship and played for Ukraine, went to Brazil to play for Corinthians.
The club’s success continued despite being exiled from their hometown of Donetsk in 2014, when pro-Russian separatists seized control of parts of eastern Ukraine. The team has played in Kyiv for the past few years.
Nicknamed the Miners, the club is owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov and has become a symbol of his home region. The Donbass Arena hosted the matches of the 2012 European Championship.
The club said during the war that it had so far provided 1.4 billion Ukrainian hryvni ($48 million) in “humanitarian aid to civilians, as well as assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Force of territorial defense in dozens of towns and villages”.
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