ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO was so sickened at the sight of orphaned children with their limbs blown off he wanted to quit his tour of a war-torn Ukrainian hospital.
But the horrors the ex-Chelsea striker witnessed on two fundraising trips back to his decimated homeland since the Russian invasion have fuelled his desire to make a stand.
Shevchenko has watched his childhood areas be destroyedCredit: Ian Tuttle
Ukraine has been decimated by Putin’s Russian invasionCredit: Getty
The places he grew up as a kid – Kyiv, Irpin, Dnipro – have been mutilated by rockets and bombs.
“I have seen the reality,” he said. “This is war. It’s something you have to see with your own eyes. It’s not a movie. It’s real life.
“When you see the places from your childhood hit by rockets, buildings destroyed by fire, it does something to you.
“On my second visit, I saw Irpin. This once beautiful city, full of new buildings, now, there’s nothing. Black. Flattened. Destroyed.”
It was the same in Borodyanka, Bucha and Hostomel.
“In Dnipro,” he added, “I went to the children’s wards of the hospital and saw boys and girls as young as six with terrible injuries.
“I heard the stories of the bombs that had hit their homes and taken their legs, their arms, their families.
“I went from one room to another and another and another.
“Honestly, after the second room, I didn’t want to continue. I couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much sadness.”
Together, with the Laureus Sport organisation, they are aiding Ukrainian refugees in the Polish city of Krakow.
Shevchenko, 46, has gifted Lewandowski a Ukrainian captain’s armband that he will take with him to the Qatar World Cup.
“Sport has the ability to influence opinion and even policy when it comes to this war,” Shevchenko added.
“In these times, sport really does have the power to change the world.”
Shevchenko is also trying to rebuild Irpin’s blitzed football pitches.
“The city used to have this beautiful football stadium, as well as a new academy with artificial pitches,” he told the Players’ Tribune.
“After the bombing, only one pitch has been left untouched.
“I have spoken to the mayor about a fundraising initiative to rebuild the rest, but for now they remain full of craters, rubble and shrapnel.
Andriy Shevchenko photographed for a feature by Mark Palmer 21 March 2022Credit: Ian Tuttle
“Despite everything, I saw children out there kicking a ball around.
“Those kids should never have to live through what they have, or to play in those conditions. It’s no place for children.
“But still they are there. Still resisting. That is the spirit of Ukraine.”
As a nine-year-old kid, he was evacuated from Kyiv following the shocking 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
“My dad took a Geiger counter to one of the footballs I brought with me,” he recalled. “And it showed 50 times the normal radiation. He had to set it on fire!”
Now, however, life and freedom are under threat.
“This is not just a fight for Ukraine, but also for all of democracy,” he stressed.
“And for what? I cannot find the reason. I cannot explain it to my kids, or to any sensible human being.
“The situation is critical. There are so many families living in overcrowded, temporary accommodations without access to basic services. And soon it will be winter.
“We need to keep fundraising. This is my priority now.
“What is success? Is it winning a football match? None of that is real. Success is freedom. Success is survival.”
Full interview, see ThePlayersTribune.com.