• Shakhtar Donetsk face Stade Rennais this Thursday in the 16th final of the Europa League, in Warsaw, where the team plays its European Cup matches.
  • Since the beginning of the war, the club and its wealthy owner, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, have financially supported Ukraine and its soldiers.
  • Composed of 95% young Ukrainian players, Shakhtar had an incredible first half of the season due, in particular, to the esprit de corps and solidarity displayed by the players in these difficult times.

It will soon be a year that Ukraine is at war with Russia and, by extension, almost a year that Shakhtar Donetsk, who face Stade Rennais this Thursday in Warsaw in the 16th final of the Europa League, tries to live as best they can their routine as a professional football club in exile. Based in Lviv since Russian troops took possession of Donbass, it moves to Poland when it comes time to play the European Cup. And while soldiers fought daily to repel Russian assaults, Shakhtar did what it could to participate in the war effort, hoping one day to be able to regain its home and stadium, partly destroyed under Russian fire at the beginning of the conflict.

As such, the president and owner of the club, Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, announced on the occasion of the sale of Mikhailo Mudryk to Chelsea (for 70 million euros) the payment of 25 million euros to help the soldiers who defended Mariupol, as part of a project called "Heart of Azovstal", named after the metallurgical plant he owns and which sheltered for months the last Ukrainian fighters. who defended the city against Russian troops, before it fell after months of siege.

However, it is necessary here to rectify an information relayed in many media in recent weeks: it is not directly the money from Mudryk's transfer that was used to finance this project but that coming from the personal fortune of Rinat Akhmetov (estimated at 6.4 billion euros according to Bloomerg, 334th fortune in the world), who has also spent more than 100 million euros since the beginning of the war to support in various ways his country.

In a statement issued in January, he explained that he had "decided to launch this project to help the defenders of Mariupol and the families of fallen soldiers. It is thanks to them, their sacrifice and their courage to contain the enemy in the first months of the war that today we all feel the inevitability of Ukraine's victory." This money is to be used to provide financial and logistical assistance to soldiers and their families. They will address a variety of needs - from medical treatment to psychological assistance to the implementation of targeted requests.

"People need to know what's going on here"

If the story was beautiful – a club formerly owned by a Russian oligarch close to Putin who indirectly finances the war led by Ukraine – the fact remains that Shakhtar is totally involved on a daily basis in the fight against the Russian invader. "Since the beginning of the war we have acted in three ways," explains Sergei Palkin, the club's general manager. We play football to bring some happiness to our people, we play charity matches to raise funds, we conduct humanitarian campaigns and we try to alert world public opinion to the atrocities committed by Russia against our people. »

After the Ukrainian championship was halted following the Russian invasion, Shakhtar set up the "Global Peace Tour", a European tour of charity matches to raise funds. From Rome to Amsterdam via Istanbul, Split or Athens, the club has played eight games in total and raised more than a million euros that has been used for "different humanitarian needs of Ukraine," according to Palkin.

"It was not only a matter of money, it was also and above all a way to send messages to Europe, to talk to the media and to explain to them the reality of what was happening in our country," said Yuri Zviridov, head of the communication department of the Moles, Shakhtar's nickname. We have taken this role to heart. People need to know what is happening here today, although I understand that over time the subject may take a back seat. People are tired of hearing about this, but please don't get tired. If we lose, Europe loses, because we are not just defending our country, we are fighting for the idea we have of democracy in Europe. »

Kyiv, Mariupol, Hostomel... The names of Ukrainian cities are flocked on the shirts of Shakhtar Donetsk players.

A platform is dedicated to child victims of war. pic.twitter.com/GhizB2lYwM

— Alexandros Kottis (@alexandros_kts) April 9, 2022

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Shakhtar's humanitarian projects

Back home to prepare for the new football season, the club has continued to support various projects, mostly humanitarian. Thus, it manages the Shelter Center located next to the Lviv stadium, where the team has taken up residence, a kind of refugee camp that hosts nearly 200 people who have lost their homes under Russian bombs. "We also took care of five Ukrainian soldiers wounded during the war by organizing their transfer to different foreign hospitals (in the United States, Israel, Spain) and by financing 100% of their medical treatment and rehabilitation," Zviridov said.

The club also financially supports the destiny of 30 war orphans, from their accommodation to their education. Finally, Zviridov continues, "we launched a fundraising campaign to buy generators. So far, we have collected 120 generators. Real Madrid, Werder Bremen, Celtic, Legia Warsaw, Feyenoord and Benfica Lisbon are among the clubs that have supported the initiative. There is also the club of Lille, in France, and its coach Da Fonseca, who gave us money and we thank them for that. "

In full preparation for the match against Rennes, Neven Djurasec, 24, said he was "proud of what the club is doing to support the Ukrainian people and their fighters". Arriving last summer, like many other players, to remedy the massive departure of the colony of Brazilians who made up a large part of Shakhtar's squad, this modest Croatian midfielder initially saw Shakhtar's interest as an opportunity "that does not present itself every four mornings". Today, he is aware that he has made more than just a career choice. He plays for a people, a nation.

Even if we don't talk about the war between us, or not much, the coach and the staff remind us of the privilege we have to play football when others are fighting and giving their lives for their country a few dozen or hundreds of kilometers away, he explains. We know how much the Ukrainian people suffer and our duty is to give them a little respite and joy during a match but also to give them hope, to show that we can achieve great things when we are together. »

"We showed what we were capable of"

Given the context, with a team amputated of its best foreign players and now composed of 95% young Ukrainians, it is nothing to say that Shakhtar honors its supporters. Second in the championship, the Minors, as they are nicknamed, managed the feat of finishing third in their Champions League group and qualifying for the 16th finals of the Europa League. In C1, in a packed Warsaw stadium, supported by thousands of Ukrainian fans in exile, they managed the feat of looking Real Madrid in the eye (1-1). A little earlier, they had even gone to stick a historic rouste to RB Leipzig (4-1) on its soil.

"What we did in the group stage of the Champions League was a miracle," admitted Sergei Palkin. A miracle stamped with the seal of solidarity and team spirit. Neven Djurasec: "For months we have all been living together in hotels in Lviv or Warsaw. It's not a simple way of life, especially since we are far from our loved ones, but we have adapted and today we are like a family. The atmosphere is really special. We feel that there is something strong in this group, something that touches on patriotism. The bonds are incredibly strong between us and I think it's this camaraderie that has allowed us to achieve such good results in the first part of the season. »

"This group is incredibly united," Zvirinov confirms. We must give everything for those who defend the country, it is thanks to them that we have the chance to live a more or less normal life, it is also why our players are grateful and give 100% on the field. No one expected such results, not even us. But it proves that nothing is impossible. There is a parallel with the war, everyone thought that Russia would win in no time and that Ukraine had no chance, but the reality is very different." If he is aware that the double confrontation against Rennes, which he qualifies for his team of "final of the Champions League", promises to be complicated, Neven Djurasec believes in their luck. "We have already shown what we are capable of and I think we can repeat the feat," he announces. The Bretons are warned.


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  • Shakhtar donetsk
  • Stade Rennais
  • Europa League
  • War in Ukraine
  • Football
  • Sport