By Carles Grau Sivera
Lviv, Ukraine, Apr 11 (EFE).- After hosting matches in both the Champions League and Euro 2012, Arena Lviv is now sheltering hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of the country.
The 35,000-seat stadium, home of FC Lviv and Rukh Lviv and where Shakhtar Donetsk played their home games between 2014 and 2016, is providing internally displaced Ukrainians with refuge and food.
Ivan, 14, was forced to flee the shelling in Dnipro province with his mother, Persian cat Michele and Labrador dog Irma. After two days of traveling by car, train and on foot, they made it to the Arena Lviv, a stadium where he had always dreamt of going.
“I never thought that I would come to the Shakhtar stadium, but at least I had the hope of doing it in times of peace,” Ivan tells Efe, explaining that he only took two bags packed with food, medicine and clothes from Dnipro to spend about five nights in the stadium before trying to cross into Poland.
Vadym Gunko, Shakhtar’s stadium director who is volunteering to assist the displaced, laments how “this beautiful stadium, which was designed for big games and events, is now used as a shelter” due to the war.
“Now the mission of this stadium is to help people, provide shelter and minimum security conditions,” says Gunko, one of the 40 club employees who now take on all kinds of tasks to care for the displaced.
The Arena Lviv has been operating as a refugee shelter for four weeks. Before that, it was a registration and transit point to redirect displaced people to other reception centers.
But faced with the large flow of displaced people fleeing Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, volunteers, club employees and local authorities have had to transform the stadium into “a big hostel,” with a capacity of 500 people, according to Gunko.
Part of the president’s box and VIP area, where once businessmen and politicians chatted, has been converted into a large bedroom full of single beds and heaters to withstand the cold weather.
Instead of balls and training cones, the warehouse now has hundreds of boxes of food and other supplies enough for a few weeks.
Victoria and Nikita, 18 and 20, have arrived at the stadium from Myrnohrad in the Donetsk region.
“We will spend one night here, but we don’t know what we will do tomorrow. We are afraid and we just want to be in a safe place,” the couple says.
Vasily, a 28-year-old from Donetsk, has also sought refuge in the stadium with his mother and his little sister because “the city was going to be bombed.”
Alexander Aleksiev, who before the war served as director of Shakhtar’s academy, is now just “another volunteer” who is trying to “help in any way he can.”
“Since we can’t play soccer, we have to do something. Our main goal is to win the war, nothing else. Once we have peace, we will be able to play soccer again. That’s why we all have to contribute,” he says. EFE