Andriy Shevchenko, president of the Ukrainian Football Association. GETTY IMAGES

Sport has given Ukrainian veterans who have been mutilated in the war with Russia the opportunity to participate in the Euro 2024 amputee football championship in France.

Andriy Shevchenko, president of the Ukrainian Football Association (UFA) and winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2004, has been developing a project to support maimed veterans since June of last year, 2023. In the words of the Ukrainian legend for the French news agency AFP, "sport is a powerful tool for the physical and psychological recovery of veterans, and it also gives them new dreams and goals to aspire to."

This initiative, crucial for the veterans who have fought at great cost since the outbreak of the Russian invasion in February 2022, will represent a boost to the "new dreams and goals" to which Ukrainian fighters aspire. The former striker for teams such as AC Milan or Chelsea, among others, points out that there are around 70,000 amputees in Ukraine, most of them war veterans.

Long-term project

In addition, the UFA has established one of its strategic objectives to help these individuals return to an active and healthy life through football. "The veterans are the reason we are all alive today and have the opportunity to continue developing Ukrainian football," Shevchenko affirms in his interview with AFP.

Currently, the Ukrainian amputee football team has "four or five veterans" and is competing in the Euro 2024 championship. Despite having started with a 1-0 defeat against the hosts, France, in Evian-les-Bains, the team remains a great source of inspiration for the whole country.

Ukraine amputees during a training - © Getty Images
Ukraine amputees during a training - © Getty Images

National heroes

Dmytro Rzhondovskyi, coach of the Ukrainian amputee football team, was also questioned about the situation of the project with the amputees. He highlights that the veterans are an example for the civilian players of the team: "The civilian players are proud to play with the wounded veterans. They say 'they are our heroes, our heroes are our soldiers'".

Rzhondovskyi, who also coaches the women's amputee team, believes that sport is essential for the adaptation and recovery of soldiers after their traumatic injuries.

In Rzhondovskyi's words, "they are heroes, I am not a soldier, but for me, I am a Ukrainian man helping men and women soldiers to adapt to life after their traumatic injuries." The dedication and commitment to this project reflect the spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people in times of adversity.

Usyk, a great inspiration

Coach Rzhondovskyi, acknowledges that they are in a tough group in the nine-day tournament, but the recent victory of boxer Oleksandr Usyk has lifted the team's spirits.

The Ukrainian heavyweight defeated the almighty Tyson Fury, snatching the WBC title from him in May. Rzhondovskyi reveals that the team's morale has been boosted by the triumph of the new champion boxer, who is curiously a childhood friend of the coach himself: "Usyk is our spirit, he is the spirit of Ukraine, our strength and we are very proud of Oleksandr."