Andriy Shevchenko helping to rebuild the war-torn children’s stadium in Ukraine

Andriy Shevchenko helped repair a stadium in the war-torn city of Irpin (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA File)

Andriy Shevchenko helped repair a stadium in the war-torn city of Irpin (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA File)

Andriy Shevchenko responded to a request to restore a stadium in the war-torn Ukrainian city of Irpin, where he played as a boy after being shocked by the scale of destruction inflicted by Russian forces.

The former striker, who as one of Ukraine’s most recognizable stars has worked to raise money and awareness since his country was invaded in February last year, traveled in August to the city on the outskirts of Kiev, which had been a hub fighting in the first weeks of the war. war.

A focus of Russia’s attempts to encircle the capital, Irpin was shelled throughout March and briefly occupied, before Ukrainian forces regained control.

Shevchenko has maintained a visible profile internationally since the start of the war, particularly in countries that have backed Ukraine. She is currently in London to take part in Channel 4’s coverage of the national team’s Euro 2024 qualifier against England at Wembley on Sunday.

The stadium in Irpin, a relatively small field with only around 1,000 seats, was previously a key community center, with city officials estimating that around 500 residents used the facility every day for sports classes and other events.

The Russian attacks destroyed parts of the soccer field and most of the surrounding infrastructure.

Shevchenko, who has been Ukraine’s most celebrated football export since joining AC Milan in 1999 after leading Dynamo Kyiv to the Champions League semi-finals, played at the Irpin Stadium in youth competitions throughout the 1990s. .

After assessing the extent of the damage last year, an emotional response prompted him to act.

“I visited Irpin after the invasion,” Shevchenko said. “I think 85 percent had been destroyed. I wanted to go and see it with my own eyes, talk to the people of the city.

“The mayor took me to see the hospital, the schools. I knew Irpin well. When he was a child he played there in soccer tournaments. It was very difficult to see what he had become.

“They took me to the stadium where I used to play when I was a kid. I was absolutely destroyed. The field was full of holes made by missiles. In the middle there were a few children playing soccer.

Ukraine has been through hell

andriy shevchenko

“I asked the mayor what I can do to help. He said ‘you can help us rebuild the stadium’. People who had been displaced are beginning to return to Irpin. We need to rebuild this. Families are coming back, and children need a place to come and forget about the fighting. We hope to have it open by summer.”

The rebuild has been supported by contributions from Shevchenko’s former club AC Milan and Ukrainian heavyweights Shakhtar Donetsk.

Shakhtar currently lead the way in the Ukrainian national league, in which teams have been forced to play in empty stadiums and in cities deemed safe by the government from the imminent threat of Russian bombing.

The continuation of the league, as well as the participation of the national team in qualifying for Euro 2024, is seen as a sign of the resilience of the Ukrainian nation in the face of the current crisis, as Kiev and other cities continue to come under attack. in critical places. infrastructure.

Shevchenko, who capped 111 times during a 17-year international career with Ukraine, believes his country is fighting for its existence.

“Ukraine has been through hell,” Shevchenko said. “I was in kyiv when we had blackouts that lasted two weeks. The missiles are destroying the infrastructure of the city.

“A couple of friends called me and said ‘do you have water in your house?’ I said come take a shower. We had electricity for an hour, I told them ‘come here, cook something’.

“People cooperate. We know we have to go through this. We don’t know for how long. We have the world behind us. We have to move on.

“It gives me extremely strong motivation. It makes me believe that this is a time for all of us to be together, to do everything we can to survive.

“We are talking about existence. If the Ukrainian people did not stand up and try to defend the country, Ukraine would no longer exist.”

Originally Posted