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Ukraine kicks off its football league season in empty stadium for first time since Russian invasion (photos)
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Ukraine kicks off its football league season in empty stadium for first time since Russian invasion (photos)

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Ukraine kicks off its football league season in empty stadium for first time since Russian invasion (photos)

Ukraine has kick-started its football league’s season, with a ceremony paying tribute to those killed in the war and the soldiers who remain on the frontline.

The opening-day game between Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalist 1925 from Kharkiv marked the first top-level football match played in the country since Russia’s invasion in February.

Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium has staged some of the biggest games in European football but never in an empty stadium and Tuesday’s match featured two teams from the war-torn east of the country – one from Donetsk and one from Kharkiv.

The teams, playing hundreds of miles away from their hometowns, came to a 0-0 draw.

The decision to restart the league – on Ukraine’s 31st Independence Day has been hailed as a defiant sign that Ukrainians are ready to restore some sense of normal life even though a contingency plan was put in place to rush players to bomb shelters should air-raid sirens ring out.

Spectators were not allowed in to watch the game at the 65,500-seat stadium because the country remains under martial law.

Players from both teams entered the field with their country’s national flag draped over their shoulders before observing a minute of silence while the names of Ukrainian cities where people have died in the war were displayed on a large screen.

Police stood guard in front of the turnstiles, where weeds have grown after stadiums were closed six months ago, but no fans showed up to the arena.

Shakhtar coach Igor Jovicevic said before the opening game that the match will “show the world that life in Ukraine does not stop”.

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