War takes heavy toll on Ukrainian sport

·3 min read

KYIV (Reuters) - Young soccer players in the city of Kharkiv are grieving over the death of their coach, killed by a Russian shell last week in an incident that highlights the heavy toll the war is inflicting on all areas of Ukrainian society, including sport.

"It hurt so much, it is as if I had lost a father," said player Danil Kaskov, taking part in a match staged in honour of Andrii Doroshev, who died on June 27 when shells slammed into a residential area of Ukraine's second biggest city.

"I hope he is watching over us from above, that we can make him proud. This tournament is a tribute to him, all the trophies are in his memory. Everything is for him," he told Reuters.

Long proud of its achievements in gymnastics, boxing, soccer and other sports, Ukraine is counting the cost of the war, now into its fifth month, on its sporting infrastructure and on its sportsmen and women.

"More than 100,000 Ukrainian sportsmen have been deprived of any opportunity to train, hundreds of Ukrainian sports facilities have been destroyed," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, while hosting the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for talks in Kyiv.

"Many Ukrainian sportsmen joined the armed forces to protect our country, to defend it on the battlefield. Eighty-nine sportsmen and coaches have been killed in fighting, 13 have been captured and are being held captive by the Russians," he said.

Kyiv's mayor Vitali Klitschko, winner of multiple world heavyweight boxing championships, has played a prominent role alongside Zelenskiy in rallying Ukrainian resistance to the invasion, which Moscow calls a "special military operation".

His younger brother Wladimir, another world heavyweight boxing champion, enlisted in the Ukrainian reserve army shortly after the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.

DESTRUCTION

Last week alone brought plenty of graphic images of the war's destructive impact on Ukrainian sport.

Reuters video footage showed the sports complex of Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute reduced to piles of concrete and twisted metal by what authorities said were multiple Russian missile strikes on June 23.

"Fire ripped across 200 square metres (2,150 sq ft). Sports equipment, mats, floor, and wall cladding all caught fire. There were no casualties," emergency service official Anatolii Torianyk told Reuters.

One Ukrainian serviceman said Russian forces were deliberately targeting large buildings such as sports halls and schools in the belief that they were being used by Ukraine's armed forces.

Russian forces deny attacking civilian targets in Ukraine.

Other images circulating on social media in recent days have included one of a massive crater reportedly caused by Russian shelling of a soccer pitch in Mykolaiv, a southern city that has also seen particularly heavy Russian bombardment.

On his visit to Kyiv on Sunday, the IOC's Thomas Bach said the organisation was ready to help with the reconstruction of Ukrainian sports facilities as he announced a tripling of a fund set up in February for that purpose, to $7.5 million.

Bach also pledged support to Ukraine's teams planning to take part in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and the winter Olympics expected to be held in Italy in 2026.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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