Debutant Ukraine plays for their fallen heroes

Suddenly the Ukrainian players take a knee in the match against the Netherlands at the European Championship flag football in Limerick, Ireland. After Dutch player Renato Amatredjo got injured the players of Ukraine immediately make a circle and go on their knees. “It’s a tradition in our country and sport to pay respect for the injured player”, says Markiyan Shekel. “We send our spirits to him, so that his injury is not to severe and he well get back healthy soon.” It worked, the next match Amatredjo was on the pitch again.

The Ukrainian team paying repect for an injured Dutch player

Ukraine is a noteworthy competitor at the European Championship. Not only because of the act of sportmanship during the match, but of course mainly because the country is at war after the Russian invasion a year and a half ago. The national men’s and women’s teams in flag football were established during that war nine months ago. The reason is very harsh. “We had a great tackle football league before the war”, Shekel says. “With multiple divisions, we were developing it in different cities, with good coaches, talented players, but we switched to flag football after the Russian invasion. Unfortunately clubs lost a lot of guys who joined the armed forces. And we have ten or even more of them to mourn for. We lost them, they passed away as our heroes, we play for them.”

One of the reasons the Ukrainian teams are at the tournament is because of that. They play for their fallen heroes and for their families. “We know it means a lot for them. And for us too. We want to show that we are part of the European community. It is so great to be here. In this free atmosphere, in this fresh air.” With the situation back home always on their mind they also just want to play the game of flag football as good as possible. “We want to experience what is possible for us.

Ukrainian player Markiyan Shekel

Maybe we can go for an appearance at the World Games in the near future or at other high level tournaments.” Ukraine won two matches in Limerick. They defeated home team Ireland and Finland.

Existance

But again, the war is always present in the minds of the players. Because of the wartime law they are only allowed to stay for seven days outside their country, then they need to come back home. “Some of us do need to report back to the armed forces again. Off course that is tough and very difficult, but we have no other option. The stakes are high, but the rule is simple: we’re gonna fight and win or we don’t exist anymore.”