Roman Yakuba and Ivan Zhelizko: “We’ll Win!”

17 April 2022

Valmiera FC Ukrainian players Roman Yakuba and Ivan Zhelizko in conversation gave an insight on things experienced after the Russian invasion of their homeland, how both are coping with the consequences that each day is brought by the war horror – about their relatives, Ukraine.

Ivan: We were in Turkey for the training camp. On the morning of the 24th of February, I woke up, and did my morning routine after which I checked my phone, where there was a message from my parents – ”We [Ukraine] were attacked.” A shock set in, we couldn’t believe it. Then later on we started checking the news, and we read and watched to then understand that everything is for real. And still, it didn’t fully click for us because we thought that we are living in the 21st century, and such a situation is unacceptable.

Roman: I still can’t believe it. Of course, we realize the reality but it’s still hard to accept it all. It feels like we are watching some kind of movie here. Unfortunately, it is all very real.

From one perspective our relatives are lucky because they live in Lviv. Everyone from Eastern Ukraine is heading there. Thank god that the Russian army hasn’t gotten there yet but at the same time rockets have already been shot everything flies in through the air.

If they [Russian army] will want to, they will continue shooting. They were prepared and knew where everything is located – these important objects were bombarded.

I: With my relatives, things are more or less okay. Mom spends time between Lviv and the outskirts of the city. Dad joined the army as a volunteer.

R: My parents are still there because they are under conscription.

I: Right now the situation has developed there that everyone wants to help their country. There are huge lines at military recall points.

R: My dad instantly responded that he wants to help the country but he wasn’t taken and was told: ”You rest for now – we have the people if anything we have your numbers.” Never before anyone has seen that huge amount of people willing to defend Ukraine. Everyone has enlisted – men and women. Meanwhile, both of my parents, as well as grandparents, are helping with other things, offering help with humanitarian support that comes from abroad. They are doing everything they can.

I: Even the youngest are there to help with different tasks.

R: I have a 13-year-old brother, he’s old enough but there are many that are much younger that offer to help.

I: Football allows us to step away from all of that.

When we come to practice or play we can unload our emotions because otherwise there is something new each minute and it’s really hard. When you’re in football it eases a little.

R: The first days, weeks of the war were the hardest. We just didn’t know what to do – to go back to Ukraine or not, how to help, the whole situation was really confusing. If our parents would go to defend our country, we would have to go as well. Our team helped us a lot, we felt the support. The President of the club on the first day came up to us and was ready to help in any possible way if our relatives needed help with accommodations. In some way, the support calmed us down. God forbid that everything would end as soon as possible.

Each day we stay in contact with our closest ones, it warms our hearts that they are all alright.

It is in Lviv. But we have many acquaintances that come from the other side of Ukraine. It’s not even possible to contact them. Everyone is worried. Information travels through intermediaries. There are lots of unknowns. The situation there is much tougher than it is in Lviv. There is practically nothing left.

I: Our friends that are also football players are making mini-tournaments where they collect donations that later are given to support those that have been touched by the war. People are doing everything they can but I personally don’t know anyone who has joined the front lines of the war. You also have to understand that when people are taken to go to war there is the time needed to teach them what to do. Time is something that we currently don’t have. Right now they prefer to have people that have at least basic knowledge of how to handle a weapon.

R: I personally know some that have applied to defend their cities, they help to install block posts. One of my friends, also a football player who I met in Turkey is still there,  his home in Ukraine was at the heart of the war – his father and brother went to fight in the war, his mother stayed behind, alone in her home and for the longest time she couldn’t get out of the horror. In the end, she succeeded – a 24-hour ride to Lviv in overfilled trains, and people had to stand on their feet the whole time. She got away at the last moment, days later around their house the first rockets hit and destroyed everything in their path. As far as I know, my friends’ father was wounded and also hospitalized.

I: We are also aware that Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Valmiera. We have had a few words with them asking if they need any help. Right now they are handling things themselves.

R: Prior to the game against Metta we went to VOC to eat dinner and they were working there – to help and cook food. We instantly recognized that they 100% are from Ukraine by their facial features. They made us food but unfortunately, we couldn’t win the game that day.

How will it end?

R: Only with a victory. We will win.

The whole world sees how united are the Ukrainian people. They underrated us. They thought that we would all run away but the complete opposite happened. With only our army it would be hard but then the people stepped in – and because of this union we held on and we still stand. I have no doubts that we will remain standing until we win.

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