Soccer team's Euro success lifts gloom in war-weary Ukraine

Tue May 26, 2015 2:26am EDT
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By Pavel Polityuk

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Eastern Ukrainian club Dnipro are unexpectedly poised for possible European soccer glory, lifting the gloom in their war-weary country, at least for a while.

With fighting raging on the doorstep of its hometown of Dnipropetrovsk, the club had to travel 500 km (310 miles) to play their Europa League home matches in the capital, Kiev, away from their fans and often at near-empty stadiums.

That sapped morale early on, they say.

But despite the odds, they have fought their way to the Europa League final on Wednesday against Spain's Sevilla, and when they run onto the pitch in Warsaw they say they will have their compatriots on the front line in mind.

"These are hard times for our state and for us too. We are hoping our sporting achievement will inspire our heroes who are defending our country from the enemy," Dnipro defender Artem Fedetsky told Reuters.

"We know the whole of Ukraine will be with us at the stadium. We will be playing for them," head coach Myron Markevich said.

An industrial city of just under one million, Dnipropetrovsk has avoided being sucked into the war against Russian-backed rebels, a conflict which has killed more than 6,200 people in just over a year.

It has seen an influx of refugees and is home to an important medical center for treating military wounded, and has come to be regarded as a bulwark against the separatist threat affecting neighboring big cities such as Donetsk.   Continued...

Dnipro's Bruno Gama (L), Artem Fedetskiy (C) and Valeriy Fedorchuk take part in a training session at the team's training camp in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, May 22, 2015. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko