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Ukraine players remind world of war before Euros

Thirteen players from Ukraine‘s national team produced a video on Thursday ahead of their appearance at Euro 2024, presenting images of wartime destruction and hardship in their home towns 27 months into Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“Our home cities would love to host Euro. Right now, they are fighting not for a tournament, but for their freedom,” is the message flashed across the screen during the 90-second video released on the Telegram messaging app.

The video shows homes reduced to rubble, buildings set ablaze or blackened from air strikes and emergency crews gingerly picking their way through piles of debris.

“My name is Mykola Shaparenko and I’m from Velyka Novosilka, which has been completely destroyed by the Russians,” said the Dynamo Kyiv player, referring to his home town virtually on part of the 1,000-km frontline through eastern and southern Ukraine.

Maksym Talovierov and Anatoliy Trubin introduce themselves as natives of Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine held by Russian forces or their local proxies since 2014, when separatists seized large parts of the east.

“At this time, Makiivka, Saky and Donetsk are temporarily occupied,” Trubin says, referring to the home towns of four players.

Oleksandr Zinchenko introduces himself as a player for London’s Arsenal and identifies his home town as Radomyshl, west of the capital Kyiv, against a background of explosions and buildings set on fire.

Zinchenko was in the Ukraine team that reached the Euro quarterfinals three years ago. That was the last European summer before the Russians attacked.

This tournament is “100%” different and special, Zinchenko told reporters ahead of the tournament.

“There is still people dying for no reason and we have to stick together,” he said, stressing that what the players have lived through does not compare to fighters on the front lines and their families.

“For them it is super difficult, for us it’s obviously extra motivation. We all know who is behind us. We need to show our best performance.”

Several Ukrainian cities, including Donetsk, co-hosted Euro 2012 alongside neighbouring Poland.

The Ukrainian team opens its Euro 2024 campaign against Romania, another western neighbour, on Monday.

But the war is a subject the Ukraine team wants to address, and hopes Euro 2024 watched worldwide will help put on center stage.

“We need to talk about this,” coach Serhiy Rebrov said. “I know that some people are tired about the news of the war but we are continuing to fight and we need your support.”

“It’s very important that Ukraine is represented in the Euro because we, all Ukrainians, we want to be in [the] European family,” said the former national team star who also played in England and Russia, and coached in Hungary. “On the war we are fighting for all Europe.”

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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