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Ukraines athletes shine through national gloom


Ukraines athletes shine through national gloom

Dnipro's Roman Zozulya (L) celebrates with team mates after scoring during their Europa League soccer match against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane in London February 27, 2014
Reuters
Five years after the Euromaidan, most analysis of Ukraine is grim. It tends to focus on the patchy reforms that have been put in place, the countrys endemic corruption, the ongoing war in its east, and the current unpredictable presidential election campaign. Hardly any of the coverage is positive.
But thats not the full picture. Writers and analysts have missed something important: the country has emerged as a leader in sports, uplifting the spirits of Ukrainians in the process. Ukrainian athletes have given their compatriots a renewed sense of pride and optimism during this difficult period.
Since 2014, Ukrainian athletes have seen tremendous success. For example, tennis star Elina Svitolina defeated world-renownedSerena Williamsat the 2016 Olympic Games. Svitolina also won the2018 WTA Finalsin Singapore. She is ranked as one of the topfemale tennis playersin the world, and through her success, Svitolina hopes to provide Ukrainians with some positivity.
Its been tough for Ukraine to focus on something different from politics, Svitolina said in an interview withCNN Sport. But I always say if everyone does their own job 100 percent everyone will be fine. I just try to do the best I can, promote sport, and thats whats most important to me.

Meanwhile, boxing champion Vasiliy Lomachenko holds theWBA (Super),WBOandRingmagazine lightweight titles, and is ranked as the worlds best active boxer,pound for pound.
It is not enough to be patriotic, you need to do something for your country, said Lomachenko in an interview withNew Time. I am saddened by the war in eastern Ukraine. But sporting achievements make me happy. I celebrate the big and small victories achieved by our athletes. Patriotism is doing something for your homeland. Do something for your country and the whole world will know.
Finally, despitelimited funding, Ukraine collected fourteen medals over the span of the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Olympic Games. The Eastern European state alsoimpressedat the 2014 and 2016 Paralympic Games, where they consecutively finished within the top five spots of the competition.
These are tremendous achievements for a country that has been locked in a five year conflict.

It is Ukrainian football, however, that has won the most acclaim. Since failing to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the mens national team and Ukraines major domestic clubs underwent a series of substantial changes to improve their performances at the international level. For example, the Ukrainian Premier Liha wasrestructuredto make teams more competitive. As a result, Ukraine is ranked as one of thetop ten leagueswithin Europe. Five Ukrainian clubs also competed in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in 2018.
Additional modifications saw swift results. During the 2014/15 season, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (more commonly known as Dnipro) unexpectedly found itself in theUEFA Europa League final. The club overcame tremendous obstacles by defeating better-known teams such as Ajax and Napoli.
Despite hailing from a predominantly Russian-speaking city in Ukraine, Dniprouniteda country with ethnic and linguisticdiversity. Although Dnipro lost the final, the team wasgreetedupon its return to Ukraine by its fans.
Dnipro football star Roman Zozulya went one step further. Following his clubs return to Ukraine, Zozulya sold his UEFA Europa Leaguerunners-up medalfor 7,500 and donated the proceeds to the Ukrainian military. He then foundedNarodna Armiya, a volunteer organization that provides food, clothing, and technical equipment to Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the Donbas.

The performance of the Ukrainian mens national team has also helped unify the country. For example, the mens national team won itsgroupin the inaugural 2018/19 UEFA Nations League by overcoming Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Additionally, Ukraine waspromotedto the tournaments elite division, where it will compete against the top national teams in Europe.
Throughout this successful campaign, the mens national team made a point of holding its home matches all over Ukraine, enjoying capacity crowds at nearly every venue. From the Ukrainian-speaking Lviv to the Russian-speaking Kharkiv, fans sangUkrainian folk songsand forgot their troubles as they supported the national team. Most important, the mens national team relocated theirtraining campfrom Kyiv to Kharkiv in an effort to further unify the country.
Overall, Ukrainian athletes have performed extraordinarily well since the start of the Euromaidan and the Donbas conflict. Their success has brought a sense of national pride to their homeland, giving people a sense of hope for Ukraines future.
Sports will not resolve the Ukraine crisis, but it has demonstrably improved the mindset of Ukrainian citizens and their confidence in their country. And this has made a difference.
Read the original text at Atlantic Council.
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