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Football warriors: Ukrainian amputees get back on the ball

Football warriors: Ukrainian amputees get back on the ball
Published September 16, 2023 Updated September 16, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

KYIV — Goalkeeper Yevgen Nazarenko laughed as he warmed up on a football pitch in Kyiv. He had been asked to stretch his hands, but he only has one.

Nearby Oleg, who has only one foot, groaned and lost balance as he did press-ups.

Both men lost limbs fighting for Ukraine.

Once or twice a week, a dozen or so amputees get together in the Ukrainian capital for football training. 

Most played regularly before their injuries, now prosthetic legs are propped up on the side of the small artificial pitch in central Kyiv.

Mr Oleg, 46, was an officer in the 46th Air Assault Brigade, which is now playing a leading role in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the southern town of Robotyne.

But last December “a bastard shot at me with a grenade launcher attached to a rifle from about 7m” as he fought near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

He even asked a doctor to give him a fake medical certificate after his second shrapnel wound, when he should have been discharged from the front line.

“I went back to my lads, although I could have not gone there at all, to that hell,” he said.


But after he lost his foot, “I realised that I was already afraid… not even of losing my life but of becoming even more disabled,” he said.

In the five-a-side game, goalkeeper Nazarenko was a whirl of energy, his T-shirt soaked with sweat, its left sleeve hanging empty.

The 31-year-old sergeant used to pilot reconnaissance drones. In May 2022 in the southern Kherson region, he was guiding mortar fire. A faulty shell exploded in the mortar tube 10m from him and he lost his arm.

He insisted that losing a leg has “not at all” affected him mentally. 

“Because no one forced me: I volunteered in the first days (of war). I knew there was a risk.

“So it happened. Why get upset? We keep on living, that’s all,” he said.

“You adapt,” agreed Mr Volodymyr Samus, 42, who was wounded by shelling near Avdiivka, a largely destroyed eastern town that the Russians have been trying to take for months.

He was wounded at 9am local time (2pm Singapore time) and could not be treated immediately by army paramedics due to heavy shelling, eventually arriving at the hospital around 4pm.

“I had lain there a very long time under shelling and there was no way to save my leg,” he said.

He also used to play football before his injury.

With a missing leg, he said, “it’s a completely new feeling. Just like a child learning to walk, we are learning to play football again”. AFP