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Ukrainian handball champions prepare for new season in German second division

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By Mario Bowden
HC Motor Zaporizhzhia train in Dusseldorf ahead of new season
HC Motor Zaporizhzhia train in Dusseldorf ahead of new season   -   Copyright  Capture d'écran (AFP Vidéo)   -  

It is home away from home for Ukraine’s handball champions HC Motor Zaporizhzhia, as they find refuge in Dusseldorf, now competing in Germany’s second tier.

When it became clear that Ukraine’s top handball league would not be able to resume, they struck an agreement with the Handball Bundesliga second division, to play as a guest team for the upcoming season.

The arrangement gives the players a sense of normality, as best it can.

"Of course, the guys are always in contact with their families and they know what's going on around in the country, and they are worried about it," says Lithuanian Gintaras Savukynas, Zaporizhzhia's head coach.

Zaporizhzhia are reigning Ukrainian champions for nine years in a row. But the city has become a household name as Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant is subjected to fighting between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, prompting fears of a continent-wide catastrophe.

"For me, sports help at this moment because you focus on your practice," says Oleksandr Kasai, a Zaporizhzhia player.

"Sometimes your mind relaxes, some days. But, unfortunately, we have situations when you can't (not) think about your home." 

Zaporizhzhia open their season against Bayer Dormagen on Wednesday in their adopted home, with free admission to all Ukrainian refugees.

Additional sources • AFP