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Ex-Chelsea forward Andriy Shevchenko says Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from sports events while war rages | World News

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Andriy Shevchenko is more familiar representing Ukrainians as a sporting icon than any form of statesman. 

But like all Ukrainians he is adapting to wartime.

The country’s footballing great is using his voice to ensure the war struggle isn’t neglected.

“We have to keep defending our country,” Shevchenko tells Sky News. “We have to do everything to provide for our children and our young generation to have a future – and that future to be Ukraine, an independent country.”

It is about more than raising awareness. Raising funds is necessary to begin the rebuilding – particularly schools attacked by Russian missiles.

“That mindset, it’s very important,” Shevchenko says.

It is important so education is not lost even as Ukraine’s efforts are primarily on repelling the invasion.

But hundreds of schools have been ruined or partially destroyed as Shevchenko saw on a recent trip back to Chernihiv.

The former Chelsea forward is hoping cash for the project comes from football fans in England with a charity match at his former club.

Latest updates:
Ukraine advancing ‘despite lacking resources’

Stamford Bridge will play host to the charity match

‘Work together’

The 46-year-old will be captaining one of the all-star sides at Stamford Bridge for Game4Ukraine on August 5.

“It is not just about raising the funds,” Shevchenko says. “But also about sending the message that sport, society, the football legends are all together.

“We try to work together for a very important cause to help the Ukrainian children, also to send the message that Ukrainian people are not alone.”

Shevchenko was joined on the visit to the Mykhailo-Kotsiubynsky Lyceum school by Arsenal player Oleksandr Zinchenko, who will be captaining the other Game4Ukraine team.

They stood in a Ukrainian government video amid the devastation – the brutal reality behind the symbolism of solidarity in adopting their blue and yellow flags.

So while the match is intended to be a celebratory occasion, the only reason it is necessary cannot be minimised or obscured from the footballing festivities.

It is why in this interview Shevchenko discusses matters not typical for a former footballer – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s future, the progress of the war and hopes for peace.

The former Ukraine captain, whose goals took them to their first World Cup in 2006, speaks assuredly, without any hesitation or concern.

Asked about the need to reclaim all Ukrainian territory, he replied: “It should be like that…Ukraine’s territory – it’s very important.”

He is clear to defer to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on how peace can be achieved.

Andriy Shevchenko, speaking to Sky's Rob Harris
Andriy Shevchenko, speaking to Sky’s Rob Harris

‘Win the war’

There is a longing for Russia to change course 18 months into the full-scale invasion, with some encouragement offered by the short-lived rebellion launched by Yevgeny Prigozhin last weekend.

Shevchenko said: “It gives hope to everyone in the beginning but I think it is a good news because that means inside of Russia some people start to be against the war and not happy about this full scale invasion to Ukraine and that always is positive news.

“But I think we will just have to do everything that we can to stop the war and to win the war.”

It is a war directly impacting sport, with hundreds of athletes killed and facilities destroyed.

It is why Ukraine has gathered support in the Baltics and beyond – including Britain – for athletes from Russia and war ally Belarus to be banned from international sports events.

But the International Olympic Committee has deplored moves led by Ukraine to ban Russians and Belarusians from even competing as neutrals at the Paris Olympics.

That has to be the case, Shevchenko maintains, if the war is not over.

“My position is very strong,” he said. “No Russian or Belarusian athletes should be participating in competitions.”

That includes at Wimbledon next week after a ban on them competing last year was reversed under the threat of further fines and sanctions from tennis authorities for Britain.

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“I know how many Ukrainian athletes will not be available to participate in any competition,” Shevchenko said. “I know how many sports facilities have been destroyed by war.

“I know how many potentially future new generations of athletes of Ukraine could never compete. And this is caused by the war Russia and Belarus started against Ukraine.”

And it’s why Shevchenko will keep speaking out.

Through football – and his charity match – the former AC Milan star hopes the world understands why Ukraine shouldn’t be abandoned.

“For us it is more important that all the countries around the democratic world stay together and help us to defend our country, defend our freedom, defend our democracy,” he says.

“For us it is more important that everybody understands what Ukraine is going through.”

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