Shakhtar on the road again with important mission to fulfil
MANCHESTER, England : Shakhtar Donetsk are no strangers to a nomadic existence, but the club’s latest journey is taking them across Europe in an attempt to raise money for Ukrainians affected by the conflict with Russia, led by a man who has seen it all before.
Escaping from Kyiv in late February as Russian bombs fell in the Ukrainian capital brought it all flooding back for Shakhtar’s director of football Darijo Srna.
Srna first experienced war as a child when the former Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s, before the Croatian left his home in Donetsk while a player at Shakhtar as Russian-backed forces entered the region in 2014, where they remain.
A nomadic existence began as Shakhtar moved to the western city of Lviv, then settling in Kyiv before the Russians again caused them to move on.
“War is not a nice experience in any way, I should know,” Srna, 39, told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
“In war there is no winner. You can rebuild schools or hospitals but you cannot bring back human beings.
“I keep reading articles saying Russia invaded Ukraine 50, 60 days ago, but they came in 2014 when we lost our homes, our stadium and some of our people. We know now we must do something more to help.”
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.
After agreeing with the government that Ukrainian players did not have to stay and fight the Russians, Srna, who spent 15 years as a player at the club, has organised for Shakhtar to play a series of matches on their “Global Tour for Peace”.
Football’s travellers have played matches in Poland, Turkey and Greece, before heading to Srna’s home country of Croatia to take on Hajduk Split on Sunday. All proceeds will be sent to help stricken Ukrainians back home.
“In every situation we must find a better way,” Srna added. “Everyone supported us – our president, the president of the Ukraine FA and UEFA.
“Footballers are more useful on the pitch than somewhere with a gun. Football can unite the world. We find a way to help with buying medicine and other necessary things. We are involved to bring another 120 children to Croatia into our homes.
“I’m so proud of all Ukrainians because I lived there 19 years and I will go back soon. They are heroes.”
Getting out was not easy as Russian forces attacked the capital, with former coach Paulo Fonseca caught up in the mass exodus. Again, Srna and Shakhtar came to the rescue.
“After I left (AS) Roma I moved back to Kyiv with my wife who is from Ukraine,” the Portuguese told Reuters.
“The week before (the war) I was on holiday, but returned early to get our family out of Kyiv. The problem was I had a flight out the morning the war started.
“Darijo called me and said it is best not to leave today, come and stay in their hotel with the players. We stayed in the bunker at night, until we decided to leave on a 25-hour minibus to the Romanian border. This is nothing compared to what others have been through.”
Now out of Kyiv, the club’s mission remains to do everything possible to help those less fortunate still caught up in the conflict.
On Tuesday the Ukrainian Premier League 2021-22 season was suspended due to the ongoing war, making it uncertain when Shakhtar will return home.
Their true home, however, has not changed. Srna and everyone involved at the club still hopes that one day, whenever that may be, they can return to Donetsk.
“We are miners (the club’s nickname). Shakhtar will always be from Donetsk, it doesn’t matter which kind of flag they will put there,” Srna added. “Shakhtar is from Donetsk, and that’s it.
“They cannot take this from us.”