By Nathan Morley
NATIONAL rivalries were cast aside yesterday as the Ukrainian national football team inadvertently ended up billeted at the same hotel as Russian domestic teams staying in Ayia Napa.
The last-minute arrival of the Ukrainians for a friendly game against the United States, came after the match was moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca due to the volatile situation in Ukraine.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, Ukrainian team spokesman Alexander Glyvynskyy said it was ironic, but a pleasant surprise that the squad were based in the same hotel housing several Russian league teams.
“We absolutely understand this is a situation with the government of Putin,” he said. “We are not in a war with the Russian people, we are friendly with them – we saw them of course and said ‘hello, hello, how are you’. We speak an understandable language, so it’s not a war with the people.”
Team manager Sergei Baranovski said that guests at the Aeneas Hotel in Ayia Napa could hardly avoid the sight of the friendliness between the Russian and Ukrainian footballers.
“Players from the Russian teams wanted to take a photo with Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Ukrainian striker) – there was a lot of photos – they smiled and they hugged,” he said.
However, Baranovski expressed disappointment that a plan for US and Ukrainian players to wear shorts or shirts with the slogan “Peace in Ukraine” was rejected by the Americans.
“The US did not want to wear anything related to politics,” he said.
Glyvynskyy said that given the circumstances, the match last night was dedicated to the people of his homeland under the slogan “Peace for Ukraine.”
“The situation is obviously in the minds of the players and I’ve asked them if it affects them or not. Of course they said all the time they are thinking about the Ukraine and the situation, of course everybody reads on their laptops and ipads – so they are thinking about it and we could say that is an unusual situation for a football match when you are worried about the situation in your home country,” he added.
Glyvynskyy added that events in the hotel over the past day had proved to be a thankful testament to the old saying that sports and politics don’t mix.
Rumours had been rife that the match would be cancelled after the Football Federation of Ukraine president Anatoliy Konkov announced on Monday that the team would not be boarding a flight to Larnaca.
“If we don’t conduct the championship, if we, together with people experience the same thing that our whole country does, what kind of football can we even talk about? When we can’t play on our territory and the match was scheduled for March 5 in Ukraine, why should we go to Cyprus and play football there? We want to play in our country, our home. We play for the people,” he said.
Even though the international game took place, Ukraine’s Premier League has now cancelled the restart of the domestic championship following Russia’s military intervention in Crimea.