Mariupol FC vow to rise from ruins after club was destroyed by Russian bombs

A month before Andriy Sanin escaped the siege of Mariupol, the 48-year-old football club’s vice-president had to melt snow and scrape together groceries to keep his family alive.

On the other side of town, 15 km away, the stadium where his football club played was destroyed.

“When your life’s work, in which you put your heart and soul, is destroyed before your eyes, that naturally leaves you with the most oppressive feelings,” he said.

Ukraine’s Premier League football resumed last week to boost the country’s morale, six months after the Russian invasion halted it. But Mariupol FC, a team that dreams of reaching the Europa League, does not compete.

Mariupol FC and another team from the northern city of Chernigiv were allowed to skip the season with a right to return next year. While Chernigiv’s Denas has to rebuild a stadium hit by a Russian missile, the road to Mariupol FC’s comeback grows longer.

“Our club infrastructure has been completely destroyed and we are facing serious financial difficulties,” said Mr. Sanin. “That’s why we asked the Premier League of Ukraine to give us a break until Mariupol is liberated.”

Mariupol FC were a traditional club previously named after the Azovstal Steelworks, where Ukrainian fighters put up a two-month heroic resistance to overwhelming Russian attacks earlier this year.

The city on the Azov Sea, which once had a population of half a million, lay in ruins after the siege. About 90 percent of Mariupol FC’s 300 employees fled the city as a result.

Mr. Sanin describes how he hid surrounded by Russian forces for nearly a month before fleeing Mariupol through a humanitarian corridor with his wife and two children.

“My beautiful house near the Sea of ​​Azov was destroyed,” he said on a Zoom call from a rented home outside the capital, Kyiv.

FC Mariupol players were in Turkey for a winter training camp when war broke out and never returned home. Most left the club when their contracts expired, with some traded or loaned to other clubs.

“Before the war we had one of the best training infrastructures in Ukraine,” said Mr. Sanin, describing the club’s dream of one day competing in the Europa League.

A modern stadium with a new hybrid turf, as well as three full training pitches and an artificial turf were all damaged by shelling during the siege, with Sanin estimating the financial losses could easily exceed 100 million hryvnia, or around €2.6m.

While Mariupol FC is still counting on its losses, other sides in the league have relocated to safer cities in the west of the country and games are being played without fans to protect them from possible Russian air raids.

In their first game last Tuesday, Shakhtar Donetsk drew 0-0 with Metalist 1925 at the Olimpiysky National Sports Complex stadium in Kyiv.

With the country now in the sixth month of a grueling war locked in a bloody stalemate, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered football to resume as a morale boost.

A second-rate team from Mariupol, which changed its name to FSC Mariupol this season, has moved to the outskirts of Kyiv with a handful of players who made it out of the city.

“The most important thing now is participation,” Oleksandr Yaroshenko, the club’s president, told AFP.

“Today it is more of an ideological team, built on the philosophy that this is Mariupol and that we live.”

Other Ukrainian clubs have managed to keep fighting after being banned from their hometowns. When pro-Russian separatists took Donetsk in 2014, football club Shakhtar Donetsk relocated from its hometown to Lviv in western Ukraine.

But Mr Sanin doubted Mariupol FC could do the same. “You had them
financial ways to survive in other parts of Ukraine, we just don’t have the finances. Football is a business to sell emotions, but the business has to be financially stable,” he said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Mariupol FC vow to rise from ruins after club was destroyed by Russian bombs

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