TOP STORIES In a stadium littered with fragments, children's football takes...

In a stadium littered with fragments, children’s football takes on a new meaning.


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Reminders of the war are everywhere at the Champion stadium in Irpen, a suburb of Kyiv.

The fragments are scattered across the football field, and the fragments of shells recovered so far lie in a pile on a blue bench next to the backpacks of young football players in training. There was a gaping hole under the stands, probably from a mortar shell. Two of the player’s fathers were shot and killed by Russian troops when they captured the city.

But despite the fact that the damage inside the stadium has not yet been repaired, the football season of the Olimp Irpin football club is in full swing. It’s a powerful sign of resilience — and a necessary distraction — amid the aftermath of the Irpin war, which was hit hard by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in March.

“Even in such conditions, we play football because it raises morale and we try not to think about the war,” said 25-year-old team coach Daniil Kisel. Training resumed on April 2, a few days after the Ukrainian military recaptured Irpin from Russian troops, who had occupied the city for almost a month. Mr. Kisel said that he cleaned and repaired the stadium himself.

Ms Kisel said that when the club reopened on April 2, only three players showed up for the game. According to him, earlier there were 400 players in the club, of which about 100 returned to Irpen. Most of those who had not yet returned were still in Poland.

The other day outside the stadium, whose façade is riddled with bullets, dozens of local residents lined up for humanitarian aid from a German aid group. But in the stadium, all that seemed to matter was football practice. The boys ran and dodged each other across the uneven surface of the field, dotted with funnels.

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