Andriy Shevchenko helps rebuild a destroyed stadium in Ukraine

The former Ukrainian footballer Andriy Shevchenko He will help restore a stadium in the war-torn Ukrainian town of Irpin, where he played as a boy, after being shocked by the scale of destruction inflicted by Russian forces.

The former striker, one of Ukraine’s most recognizable stars, who has worked to raise funds and raise public awareness since his country was invaded in February last year, traveled in August to the city near Kiev, which was the center of the fighting in the first weeks of the war.

The focus of Russian attempts to encircle the capital, Irpin was shelled throughout March and briefly occupied, before Ukrainian forces regained control.

Since the beginning of the war, Shevchenko has maintained a visible profile on an international scale, especially in countries that have given their support to Ukraine.

The Irpin Stadium, a relatively small venue with only around 1,000 seats, was once a key community centre, and city authorities estimate that around 500 residents used the facilities daily for sports classes and other events. The Russian attacks destroyed part of the soccer field and most of the surrounding infrastructure.

The most celebrated Ukrainian footballer since joining AC Milan in 1999 after leading Dynamo Kiev to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, Shevchenko played at the Irpin Stadium in youth tournaments throughout the 1990s.

After seeing the extent of the damage last year, an emotional response prompted him to act. “I visited Irpin after the invasion,” Shevchenko says.

I think 85% had been destroyed. I wanted to go and see it with my own eyes, talk to the people of the city. The mayor took me to see the hospital and the schools. He knew Irpin well. When I was a child I played soccer tournaments there. It was very hard to see what he had become.

Later, he added.

They took me to the stadium where I used to play as a child. It was absolutely destroyed, full of holes made by missiles. In the middle there were a few children playing soccer. People who had been displaced are beginning to return to Irpin. Families are coming back and children need a place to come and forget about the fighting. We hope to have it open for the summer.

The reconstruction has been supported by contributions from Shevchenko’s former club, the AC Milan, and a Ukrainian football heavyweight, the Shakhtar Donetsk.

Shakhtar currently lead the Ukrainian league, in which teams have been forced to play in empty stadiums and in cities deemed by the government safe from the imminent threat of Russian bombing.

The continuation of the league, as well as the participation of the national team in the phase of qualifying for Euro 2024is seen as a sign of the Ukrainian nation’s resilience to the current crisis, as kyiv and other cities continue to suffer attacks on critical infrastructure.

(With information from Europe Press)