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Global Conversation: Andriy Shevchenko on Russia's invasion and how the war is affecting sport

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By Euronews
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"We all have to stand together and speak loud and always be together against this aggression" says Shevchenko
"We all have to stand together and speak loud and always be together against this aggression" says Shevchenko   -   Copyright  Euronews

Russia's assault on Ukraine is fast approaching the six-month mark. 

While the invasion has affected many aspects of life in Europe including the cost of living and rising energy costs, it has also influenced the world of sport. 

Governing sports bodies generally steer clear of politics, however, the ongoing war has put an end to sport's neutrality. 

Many teams and international bodies including the International Olympic Committee, UEFA and FIFA, have expressed solidarity with Ukraine and have placed numerous restrictions on competitors from Russia and Belarus. 

Ukrainian native and former professional footballer, Andriy Shevchenko, was most recently the head coach of Italian heavyweights Genoa C.F.C. 

As a top striker for AC Milan he scored a total of 175 goals and became the third Ukrainian to win the coveted Ballon D'Or in 2004.

The father of four is no stranger to politics, in 2012 he announced he was running for the Ukrainian federal elections however his party failed to secure any seats in parliament.

Today, the 45-year-old is lending his celebrity status to promote fundraising initiatives for the war-torn country, notably UNITED24, an initiative of President Volodymir Zelensky.

In representing his people's struggle to resist Russia's invasion, he spoke to Euronews International Correspondent Anelise Borges.

Interview in full:

You come from a world of successes and victories, you rocked the world of football. And today, you’re here to talk about a country facing destruction and displacement. Had you ever thought you would be in this position and that this would happen to your country?

Andriy Shevchenko: Yes, it’s hard to believe. It’s true that everything started in 2014, first with the annexation [of Crimea] and, the war in Donetsk, that was the first part of the conflict.

I still remember, like two weeks before, I was speaking a lot to my family, I was speaking to my sister, to my mum, we were considering, talking about what we were going to do. 

But I couldn’t believe it, and my family was saying no it’s impossible, we don’t believe it can happen. We saw the United States embassy, the Italian, all the European embassies started to move away from Kyiv, from Ukraine, that’s when we really started to worry about it. 

When the war started on the morning of the 24th, I had a phone call from my mum. And immediately when I saw my mum calling me, I realised something really bad had happened. 

I answered the phone and I heard my mum’s voice, she was crying and saying the war had started. That was… The most difficult time in my life.

Since then, everything has changed for us.

It’s hard to believe, for me, sport had never been attached really to politics or war, it was always away from conflicts. 

Because sport has a different message for people, it brings people together, it unites people together… and there is no aggression, fair play is very important.

The world of sports has also been affected by this war. It has been quite extraordinary to see how it has responded. We have seen Russian teams and athletes being banned from competitions - or being allowed to play under strict neutrality rules. Many analysts are saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced the world of sport to pick a side, to become more political. Do you agree with that? And do you think that’s important right now?

Andriy Shevchenko: Of course. As I said, sport has such a strong message, especially for the young people, the young generation, and also for the world, we are standing together against aggression. 

FIFA and UEFA were very strong in their decision to ban all the Russian teams from many competitions, and Russian clubs from any competitions since the war started, that was a clear message and I absolutely agree with that.

Many have been criticising Russian athletes for not coming forward and speaking out against the war. What do you say about that? Do you think there should be more Russian athletes out there today campaigning against this invasion?

I don’t judge people. We are all very different. But I think if you are a strong person, if you want to live your life and be fair to yourself, you should express yourself. 

We all have to stand together and speak loud and always be together against this aggression.

We have seen an extraordinary response to the millions of people who have been displaced, many of whom have had to leave Ukraine. In Europe, there has been an extraordinary willingness to help these people, to host them, which has been quite different from the reaction to people coming from other crises like Syria or other parts of the Middle East. Did you feel that way? Did you notice that?

To be honest with you, I think it’s only when a situation touches you personally that you start to feel a lot for that. We have to worry about this conflict, this situation more. 

The world has to react immediately. You know, for me I can see the future, we have to stand together and immediately react to this aggression and aggression in the world.

Do you have a message for the people of Ukraine, some of whom are athletes like you and have dropped everything, abandoned their old lives and now, are fighting with weapons against Russia? And to the people of the world who know you very well for your victories, for your beautiful career, about the importance of not forgetting Ukraine, of not looking away from this conflict.

My message to the world is that it’s been more than six months since the war started and, of course, the awareness of the war, it’s like waves - it goes on and off. 

But my message is that war is there, and this situation is very critical. Every day people are losing their hopes, are losing their houses, and their lives. 

They need a lot of help. Don’t be indifferent. I know many of you did help already a lot. And I want to thank everyone for that. 

But I also know that Ukraine needs more help. And please don’t be indifferent. For my people, we have always been together. I’m going to go to Ukraine soon, and my message has always been “Sláva Ukrayíni!”.