BarcelonaAt least 77 high-level Ukrainian athletes have died as a result of the war in Ukraine, according to a count by a sports NGO called SPorts Angels. The list, according to those in charge of making it public, will be longer, since the deaths during this July have not yet been included.
In Ukraine, a country with a great sporting tradition, as football player Artem Kravets explained to ARA, different personalities from the world of sport have gone to fight. Others have seen the Russian attack end their lives far from the front, as happened to 20-year-old gymnast Daria Kurdel, who lost her life when the building she lived in in the town of Kriví Rih bombed. Kurdel, who had gone on to become a Ukrainian international in the rhythmic dance discipline, was outside the building training with her father when she was hit by shrapnel from a bomb.
One of the most familiar names to Ukrainians of sportsmen who have lost their lives is that of former soccer player Serhí Balantchuk, who had become an international with the Soviet Union’s under-21 team. Trained at the best club in the country, Dynamo Kyiv, with whom he made his debut in the First Division under legendary coach Valeri Lobanovski, Balantchuk made a career in Israeli football, with Maccabi Haifa, before returning to Dinamo in 1999, precisely the year in which this club thrashed Barça and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. Being able to start, Balantchuk would leave for Vorska in Poltava, before retiring to Metallist in Kharkiv. He died at the age of 49 on the Donbass front, after being hit by Russian mortar fire. Former FC Lviv player Petr Gariliv has also died at the front of the Donbass area.
In a country with a great tradition in contact sports (the mayor of Kyiv is Vitali Klitschko, one of the best boxers of all time), the specialist in kick-boxing Mikola Zabavchuk, who had won regional tournaments in the Lviv area, and weightlifting specialist Vasil Pavelyev. Other sportsmen who have lost their lives in the war are rugby league player Maksim Xvets, swimmer Volodymyr Ulianitsky and water polo coach Vitali Lisun.
Many athletes decided to enlist once the Russian attack began, such as boxer Vasily Lomatchenko, who is part of the Belgorod-Dnestrovskiy zone defense battalion, and Oleksandr Usik, who was due to face with Britain’s Anthony Joshua this summer to be world champion. A few months ago, Usik posted a video on the networks aimed at the “people of Russia”, where he is a fairly well-known figure, making it clear that his enemy is Putin, not them. Biathlete Dmitró Pidrutxni, medalist at the Beijing Games, and Dmitró Mazurtxuk, a Nordic combined skier, are also at the front. Iuri Vernidub, the Ukrainian coach of Tiraspol Sheriff, champions of the Moldovan league and a team capable of beating the Bernabéu in the Champions League 1-2 last season, returned home to enlist in the army.
The idea of the Ukrainian authorities is that their country’s football league will soon return, despite the conflict, with a protocol to ensure security in case of Russian attacks. The idea is to play in safe cities with empty stadiums from August 23. Clubs such as Dynamo Kyiv have, in fact, played in these Champions League preliminaries, but Dinamo has done so playing as a home team in Poland, in Lodz. In the second leg of the tie against Turkish side Fenerbahçe, by the way, the home fans ended up being sanctioned by UEFA for chanting Vladimir Putin’s name.