Professional athletes try to stay away from politics as a general rule. But in Ukraine these days, it’s increasingly difficult to do so. Players in Ukraine’s Premier League, the country’s top football division, say they are having a tough time concentrating on the game.
Helping to sow confusing in the Premier League is the fact that a couple of top teams, including front-runner Shakhtar Donetsk, are based in eastern Ukraine, currently the epicenter of disturbances kicked up by pro-Russian agitators. In addition, two of the 15 teams now competing in the top division play their home games in Crimea, a peninsula that Russia recently claimed as its own.
Conditions are especially bewildering for foreign players, such as Miguel Veloso, a 27-year-old midfielder who plays for Ukraine’s most storied football team, FC Dynamo Kyiv. Veloso is also expected to be a major contributor on Portugal’s national team in the upcoming World Cup tournament, to be held this summer in Brazil.
“We are living amid a time of war and it’s not easy,” Veloso recently told EurasiaNet.org. “These aren’t the proper conditions to play football in now. It’s very hard when you see people in a war-like situation and you have to go out on the field for a match.”
There are no Russian citizens on Dynamo Kyiv’s roster, a factor that no doubt keeps the tension level in the clubhouse in check. Still the players must contend with major distractions; several have friends and family members living in areas directly affected by the Ukrainian-Russian crisis. “Some of my teammates are more involved in the situation,” said Veloso, who previously played for Genoa in Italy’s Serie A league. “Even those who are not directly involved, they still suffer a lot because they are Ukrainian and they can’t accept what’s happening to their country.”
This is Veloso’s second year playing in the Ukrainian capital and, under his current contract, he has two more years to go. Despite the tumult and uncertainty, Veloso said he enjoys playing in Ukraine, and he’s not looking to get out of his contract and move on to a more stable playing environment. “I want to stay here. I want to get on with my job here. And I want to help [Ukrainians] to ride out this bad moment,” he said.