By Adam Pate.
It has been the hardest month of their lives. Ukraine has spent every minute battling to stay alive, with vicious and unprovoked assaults from Russia destroying life after life.
One city, Mariupol, has been bombarded on a daily basis since February 24 and it has now been reported by the Institute for the Study of War that they expect the city to fall into the occupant’s hands in the next week.
Last year, I had the enjoyable opportunity to visit the city despite being located so close to the pre-February frontline in the heart of Donetsk Oblast.
Our reason for travelling to the remote location on the Azov coast (a mere 500 miles from Kyiv) was football. Naturally, we wanted to learn about the two teams based in the city.
Yarud FC was an amateur team that turned professional just two years ago and had built a strong young side that was starting to make strides in the third tier before the war.
However, the city’s main club, now known as FC Mariupol, was the main draw. The club, which had played in the Europa League during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, has existed for over sixty years.
I mostly see the world through the gauze of football.
I don’t visit museums, I visit clubs to get the feel of a place.
This is FC Mariupol, Ukraine.
From this pic it is so easy to imagine the excitement and bustle before a game.
Made by People just like you and me… pic.twitter.com/KRu85RMOmD
— Mat Guy (@MatGuy5) March 21, 2022
Even during the last outbreak of heavy fighting in the region in 2014, the club relocated to Dnipro before returning home for the 2015-16 season. As Callum Seniuk noted in Futbolgrad, this season in exile saw the club relegated to the second tier where it would stay for two seasons.
FC Mariupol, by name, had only been in existence since 2017, with the club having a number of names in its past, which were linked to its communist Soviet history.
Back in 1960, it had been known as Azovstal, with its administration falling under the reigns of the steelworks of the same name. During the communist era, it had taken other names such as Lokomotiv and Novator as well as the omni-popular Metalurh; all the names showing respect to their mass industry links.
It was only as recently as 2002 when the club was bought by the Illich company that the club changed to the more commonly known Illichvets. However, following the fall of the Yanukovych government during the 2014 Maidan Revolution, the country has undergone reorganisation.
The 2017 rebrand, not only saw the club remove its communist past through the name change but a brand new logo also paid homage to the city’s coastal locality and outward approach.
It was genuinely hoped at the time that the city would look to the future with optimism despite the war continuing less than 100km away. The opening matches of the 2017-18 season galvanised the entire city and pushed the club onto its consecutive appearances in European football at the end of the last decade.
The last few years had not been as successful for the club but it had been very surprising to see them at the bottom of the league as Ukraine went into the winter break this December. Little did anyone know what lay ahead.
During February, Ukrainian Premier League clubs relocated to Turkey to prepare in warmer climates for the restart of the season. It is an annual migration that happened again this year despite the growing noises of war during the early part of 2022.
The league was due to begin on February 25 with the first game of the matchday weekend taking place in the southwest corner of the country. History will note that it is still to take place.
FC Mariupol, by a twist of fate, had been scheduled to return home on Thursday morning. However, the first missiles began to smash into the city and the Turkish Football Federation agreed to allow the club to remain in the country at the federation’s personal expense. They are still there today.
Club manager, Ostap Markevych, reported they had received confirmation that their training pitch had been destroyed in early March.
As of today, there are no confirmed reports to the fate of the Volodymyr Boyko Stadium (pictured above in 2014).
What we do know is, given its location in the northeast of the city, it is presently in occupied territory.
We do not know what tomorrow will bring for Ukraine, its people or its football, but no matter what, we will not forget FC Mariupol.
Featured image source