“I was not, I am not and will not be Russian – I am Ukrainian”


The playing fields of Estonia are a far cry from the killing fields of Ukraine.

On the surface, former Ukraine international Denys Dedechko seems to be living a normal life, playing and scoring for his club in Estonia’s Narva Trans league, but never thinking about home. Kyiv and Mariupol are not only places that should be mentioned in TV news: Kyiv is his hometown, Mariupol a place where he had a happy time as a player four years ago.

“I spent half a year in Mariupol. It was a good time. Now it’s scary to think about and very difficult to talk about,” Dedechko told the Irish Independent from his home in Estonia, near the Russian border.

Just days after Russia invaded his country, the 34-year-old delivered a personal blow of freedom. After scoring a goal for his club in a league game at Legion, he unfurled the flag of Ukraine and was joined by his team-mates in part celebration, part defiance.

“It’s hard to remember now what happened back then because there was so much emotion, feeling and misunderstanding. Just the horror of what happened. It was scary even for a second stepping away from my phone,” he says when asked to explain what went through his mind when he scored that goal, as daily life closes given the scale of events home is a burden

“It’s very difficult, you’re in constant contact with everyone, you don’t sleep, you don’t eat. It is difficult to convey all these emotions and experiences, but I am grateful to the club for their understanding.”

The seriousness of the situation on a personal level is obvious. Dedetschko says his parents are still in Kyiv where “they are helping the soldiers because there is still war in my country,” but for security reasons and fear they might be identified, he doesn’t want to say what exactly his parents are do help the war effort. “Not only do I communicate with my parents every day, but every hour or two.”

In many ways, Dedetschko is a typical footballer from the former Eastern bloc. Born in the Soviet Union in 1987, he started out in the academy of a big club, Dynamo Kyiv, then moved to Russia in 2009 at the age of 21, where he played for three league clubs and flitted between clubs in the following decade in Ukraine , Kazakhstan, Russia and Armenia.

In 2013 he was good enough to play for the national team, a one-cap miracle in a friendly at home against Israel. Until 2015 he was with Astana in the group stage of the Champions League, drawing against Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray.

Earlier this season he joined Narva Trans, a club in the town of Narva, which is close to the Russian border and is home to the majority of Russian speakers. Valeri Karpin, current manager of the Russian national team, was born there and the first team manager is Russian.

Like many Ukrainians, Russian is his first language, but he refuses to let that define his nationality as Vladimir Putin would like to refer to him as one of “their”, while it is now difficult to talk about the time he spent as a player spent in Russia.

“I can speak both Russian and Ukrainian, but I’m Ukrainian. I am happy and proud to be Ukrainian. I wasn’t, I’m not and won’t be Russian – I’m Ukrainian,” he says.

The constant shelling of his former place of work Mariupol can hardly be experienced. He has lost touch with friends from that spell there, but worries about the fate of others. “Several times I contacted a friend who lives in Chernihiv and he is now in a bunker. It’s very difficult,” he says.

Sport is a weapon for Ukraine in this fight as former athletes like ex-footballer Oleh Luzhni and boxer Oleksandr Usyk have returned home to fight. Has Dedetschko considered joining the fight at home? “It’s a difficult question,” he says.

“I am in Estonia, I communicate with people, I see how Estonia helps my country. But I want to believe that when the flag of Ukraine appears at football matches, it somehow influences people’s minds and makes it clear that the war must end.

“As for a no-fly zone, I’m not a politician. I’m just a soccer player in this situation. But I, as a citizen of Ukraine, do not want the planes of Russia or other planes to bomb Ukraine and destroy everything.

“And I believe that Ukraine is now protecting not only itself, but also many other countries.

“I don’t think anyone will say how long it will take to rebuild the country. Ukraine is our homeland and fatherland. And only ours.” “I was not, I am not and will not be Russian – I am Ukrainian”

Fry Electronics Team

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