Members of the Olymp Irpin Football Club on Wednesday at the Champion Stadium in Irpin, Ukraine. Debris litters the heavily damaged stands, and explosions left large craters in the field.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
The reminders of the war are everywhere at the Champion Stadium in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv.
Shrapnel is scattered on the soccer pitch, and the shell fragments removed so far sit in a pile on a blue bench next to the backpacks of young soccer players at practice. A gaping hole remains under the bleachers, likely caused by a mortar shell. Two of the player’s fathers were shot and killed by Russian forces as they took over the town.
But even as the damage inside the stadium has yet to be cleared, the football season of the Olymp Irpin Football Club is in full swing. It is a powerful sign of resilience — and a necessary distraction — amid the aftershocks of war in Irpin, which was badly battered by fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces in March.
“We play football even in these circumstances because it helps our morale, and we try not to think about the war,” said the team’s 25-year-old coach, Daniil Kisel. Training restarted on April 2, days after Irpin was recaptured by the Ukrainian military from Russian forces who had occupied the town for nearly a month. Mr. Kisel said he had been cleaning and fixing the stadium himself.
Ms. Kisel said that when the club reopened on April 2, only three players turned up to play. He said the club previously had 400 players, of whom about 100 had come back to Irpin. Most of those who hadn’t yet returned were still in Poland.
On a recent day outside the stadium, whose facade is riddled with bullets, dozens of local residents lined up to receive humanitarian aid from a German aid group. But inside the stadium, all that seemed to matter was the soccer practice underway. Boys ran and dodged each other on the uneven ground of the pitch, dotted with craters.