Oleksandr Petrakov wants to use the power of football to support the war effort
When the war broke out in the early hours of 24 February, Oleksandr Petrakov, the manager of Ukraine’s men’s national football team, chose not to leave his home in the capital, Kyiv, as the Russians advanced and shells dropped, but to try to join the fight.
“My family told me to go to western Ukraine, but I refused. I said: ‘I am from Kyiv, I can’t leave,’” says Petrakov. “I didn’t think it would be correct as people have to defend, and I can’t run. I thought, if they come to Kyiv I will pick up a weapon and defend my city.”
He adds: “I am 64, but I felt it was normal to do this. I think I could take two or three enemies out.” A Russian speaker from childhood, Petrakov now sticks to Ukrainian in public, and while some are sad about Vladimir Putin’s war and others are angry, he admits to a more visceral emotion. “It’s just hate. This is not anger, but people’s hatred of those who invaded their land. We need time to calm down but right now it’s just hate. They have broken our countries for years.” Instead, the Ukrainian Football Association, on the advice of Petrakov, is trying to negotiate with UEFA both a training camp outside of Ukraine, possibly in the UK, and friendly matches with clubs such as Bayern, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, with proceeds from the game to support the Ukrainian armed forces.
Petrakov says he has 11 players in his squad playing outside Ukraine, including the Premier League, but 26 inside who need match practice. “We could play at Wembley, for example, against a London club. It could be a good exhibition game, a response for the Ukrainian army as well as preparatory work for the Scotland game.”