‘I cry every day’: in the stands with the Ukrainians as Dynamo Kyiv play again | Dynamo Kyiv
FNearby, at the other end of the pitch, a Ukrainian footballer scores what later turns out to be a beautifully crafted goal. It’s something remarkable in itself but Oksana speaks and the backdrop has become a detail. She thinks of the train she will be boarding in about nine hours; this will finally bring her back to Kyiv, and from there she will join the volunteer effort in Bucha. The house she left is 10 miles further south, in Boyarka. Like most of the capital’s satellite towns, it has had its own visit to hell.
“Tomorrow they are burying another friend of mine, but I won’t be there in time,” she said. “Many have already left and I don’t know if I will ever see them again many more. Two close friends were killed while helping to evacuate people. They were found in a mass grave with evidence that they have been tortured. And I know there is more of that to come.
Oksana’s story drowns out the clamor of a football match. It comes neutrally and with what she describes as necessary distance. “My mind is just trying to reject reality,” she says. “I just disconnect my feelings. That will come later, I’m aware of that.
She wrapped herself in a Ukrainian flag and is far from the only one in this case. By a safe estimate, around two-thirds of a crowd of 18,000 inside the Legia Warsaw stadium are his compatriots. Some live here; many arrived out of necessity. All are dealing with, or will one day be confronted with a treatment, a mourning that is both collective and intensely personal. They are nominally here to watch Dynamo Kyiv take on the host club in the first of a series of ‘peace matches’ which will raise funds for the response to the Russian invasion and see them play against several other European sides.
For some, the immersion in a game is a welcome diversion; for others, it is simply the first opportunity to be together in such large numbers. “Maybe not everyone would understand this kind of event, but it helps to strengthen the sense of belonging to the Ukrainian nation,” says Oksana, who left Boyarka for Warsaw with her children after the start of the war. war, but made regular trips to and from Lviv with supplies for soldiers and doctors. “We are waging a war between light and darkness, and the light will succeed.”
It’s a yellow and blue collage of thoughts and feelings. Two hours before kick-off, Dynamo fan Mykola stands by a railing at the northeast corner of the pitch. He is 21 years old and has lived in Warsaw since leaving the central region of Ukraine, Kirovohrad, where he currently works as a bartender. As people pass by, he helps outfit a makeshift stand, accepting donations that will go toward body armor, helmets and other protective gear for those defending Ukraine. A similar drive in Warsaw’s Old Town raised 8,000 zlotys (£1,430); this count will be greatly exceeded tonight. His father is with him, handing out bread with slices of pork and pickles to everyone who contributes, but he thinks of his grandparents at home.
“It’s an emotional feeling to be here,” he says. “The message sent by Dynamo is important: stop the war, win it and return to peace. That’s all we want. This game can help us.
Outside the stand, Katya is with her sister Nastya and brother-in-law Ihor, who have lived in Warsaw for five years. Ihor is an avowed Dynamo fanatic and holds a scarf aloft. Katya is studying in kyiv but left in early March to join them, at the insistence of her family. “I feel safe in Warsaw, but I can’t say I’m calm,” she says. “I worry about my parents; it tears me apart. Every night in my dreams I just see bombs and people dying.
Further on, Yulia surveys a growing crowd with a clipboard. Every few seconds, someone presents him with his blue Ukrainian passport and has his name checked off a list of attendees at a pre-game concert. The vast majority of refugees in Poland are women and children, as most men under the age of 60 are required to stay in Ukraine. Today, they come mainly from the east of the country and arrive at Warsaw Central Station, where two tents offering food and other aids welcome them. Yulia, a refugee and student producer in kyiv before the invasion, gathers a hundred of them to join famous Ukrainian musicians in the field.
“We created a Telegram channel to find people who would be interested in coming,” she explains. “It’s a way for them to be part of something, and also to help our nation. I’ve been trying to help people with their basic needs since I’ve been here because we all have to be together. But everything is difficult.I feel pain all the time and I cry every day.
Participants parade inside, circle the pitch and, half an hour before kick-off, dance on a Ukraine-shaped stage in the center circle alongside musicians such as Kateryna Pavlenko of Go_A, who represented the country at Eurovision in 2020. when the Ukrainian anthem sounds, shortly after the departure of the teams, makes the hair stand on end.
Dynamo stayed at the Regent Hotel, a pleasant walk through Lazienki Park. Friends come to visit us, including other footballers; Ihor Litovka, goalkeeper of top-flight club Desna Chernihiv and now a temporary resident of Warsaw with his wife and newborn baby, catches up with defender Oleksandr Karavayev. The Litovka stadium was bombed; he dreams of returning to Chernihiv, whose extent of suffering is not yet fully perceptible, after the war to rebuild his club and create a goalkeeping academy.
Since leaving Ukraine, the Dynamo players have spent 10 days training in Bucharest under veteran coach Mircea Lucescu, who has spoken passionately about his belief that football can provide empowerment during the war. Those players with rooms at the front of the hotel can look out their windows to see a banner reading “Putin fuck you” in Ukrainian and “Glory to Ukraine” in Polish, hanging from a gray commercial building in the other side of the street.
When Vitaliy Buyalskiy put Dynamo ahead against Legia in three minutes, deftly getting involved, he did so in front of a ‘Stop the War’ banner emblazoned on the lower tier behind the goal. Buyalskiy falls to his knees; there are loud cheers but otherwise the mood takes a while to warm up. It’s not an ordinary football crowd and it’s not really a party night; a section of Legia ultras decided to boycott the match, alleging that Dynamo ownership is pro-Russian, which was denied. These fans aren’t here to put on the kind of spectacle they made in Poznan on Saturday, when an image of Putin with a noose around his neck was unfurled. It’s a softer, more sensitive affair but, in the second half, chants denouncing the Russian president become audible and a few yellow and blue flares are emitted.
“I’m not a Dynamo fan, just a Ukraine fan,” says Bohdan, who arrived in Warsaw from the Luhansk region in 2014 and greets the goals with enthusiasm. Legia equalize but Dynamo score again through Artem Besedin and, as Oksana puts everything in context, the same player seals the result by making it 3-1. Full time, the Imagine song is playing, the flags are waving in unison and Benjamin Verbic, a Slovenian winger who joined Legia on loan from Dynamo after the invasion, is among those who cannot hold back the tears.
“We are going to face this war for many years,” Oksana says. “But my point of view, and I don’t think it’s just a romantic point of view, is that there are much more powerful tools than guns. There is human face, brain, soul and love inside. I think that’s what the Ukrainians have and the Russians don’t. We saw it again here tonight. And that’s why we’re going to win.