War displaces soccer players

Updated: 2015-03-03 07:55

By Associated Press in Lviv, Ukraine(China Daily)

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The sleek stadium, built six years ago and home of soccer team Shakhtar Donetsk sits in the middle of Donetsk, a war zone controlled by militias battling Ukrainian troops.

The $425 million Donbass Arena now serves as a depot and distribution point for supplies of humanitarian aid, stacked in corridors beneath its 52,000 orange-and-black seats.

The soccer team hasn't played at the stadium since May 2. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has forced the team to temporarily relocate, playing its home games in the far western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Players like Ivan Ordets originally packed light for what they thought would be a short stay, living in Kiev and traveling by bus to the games in Lviv.

Nine months later, with the war dragging on through failed cease-fires and nearly 5,800 people killed, the players have rented apartments and are building new lives in Kiev, but their thoughts never stray far from the conflict.

"It's the first time in my life that I haven't been home for a long time," the 22-year-old Ordets said, tears welling in his eyes. Although his mother has moved with him to Kiev, other relatives remained behind.

"My uncle, my aunt, my dad - they've stayed in the east of Ukraine," he added. "In that way, it's hard and I'm worried for them."

Ordets, a defender, is one of the few Ukrainians on Shakhtar Donetsk, a team that includes 13 Brazilians, more than half its roster. He comes from Volnovakha, a small town near Donetsk, but on the Ukrainian government side of the lines.

Last month, a passenger bus in Volnovakha was hit by a shell, killing 13 people. The Ukrainian government accused the militias, who denied responsibility.

"They're shooting and it's not a calm situation in the town. There's a lot of troops in the town," Ordets said, speaking in a luxury hotel in Kiev that serves as the team's temporary base.

Some neighborhoods of Donetsk have been wrecked by indiscriminate shelling, and its airport - refurbished and modernized for the 2012 European soccer championships - is in ruins.

The Donbass Arena has suffered some exterior damage from the fighting. Security-camera video from Oct 20 showed a person was nearly hit by falling glass from the top of the stadium caused by a shock wave from a nearby explosion.

 War displaces soccer players

An elderly woman walks across the remains of a bridge that collapsed on the road to the airport on Sunday. It has been a scene of heavy fighting in Donetsk, Ukraine. Vadim Ghirda / Associated Press

(China Daily 03/03/2015 page12)