The upcoming match between England and Ukraine at Wembley Stadium is about more than just the Euro 2024 bid. For the thousands of Ukrainians living in the UK, it is an opportunity to feel a sense of home and to remind the world of the terrors being inflicted on those under invasion from Russia.
At least 4,000 Ukrainian fans are expected to attend the match, with more than 3,000 tickets sold in the away end. The FA has also donated an additional 1,000 tickets to refugees. Manager Ruslan Rotan hopes that his team can offer a shot of hope for those in the stands with family suffering back home, as well as those watching from afar.
Stefan Luczka, a British-Ukrainian who is the chairman of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club, lives in Luton but has an uncle battling on the front line. He believes that any sort of morale boost will help, as everything at the moment in terms of Ukraine is negative. Ukrainians are being pummelled and bombarded with missiles, and any sort of positivity or morale boost, not just for the soldiers on the front line but for everyone, would be a massive uplift.
Luczka hopes that occasions such as this match, as well as any successful qualification for a major tournament, will offer a huge boost to those seeking support as coverage abroad naturally ebbs away over time. He believes that it would be absolutely phenomenal if Ukraine could qualify for a major tournament. It would be a massive boost of positivity to Ukrainians around the world and would highlight to the rest of the world that Ukrainians are fighting, metaphorically, on the pitch as they are on the front line.
For a community having to watch their country suffer from afar, Sunday’s match is about far more than just three points towards qualification. Luczka believes that the UK has been phenomenal in its support and that Sunday is an opportunity for Ukrainians to get together and show appreciation. If they can get even a message of thanks, it would be a significant gesture.
The footballing family in England is also offering ongoing support. Today, the England Fans team will play a team of Ukrainian supporters in the ‘John Motson Memorial Cup’, raising funds and collecting donations to support those in need in Ukraine. A similar fundraising fixture was arranged last March, a month after the invasion, which saw England fans raise enough to drive two ambulances to Ukraine, both packed with humanitarian aid essentials. Supporters are hoping to repeat this ahead of the return fixture in September.
Luczka believes that this is football fans acting in the right spirit and that it is what football should be. The match between England and Ukraine is about more than just sport. It is about offering hope, support, and a sense of community to those who need it most.