In Mariupol, the chalice of war to the dregs

In February, Andriy Sanin still dreamed of seeing the Mariupol club stay in the Ukrainian Premier-Liha before fighting for a qualification in the Europa League. Since then, the Russian army has ravaged his city, his club and his career. The first vice-president of the Ukrainian club recounts the war seen from a football field…

“We have organized ourselves in telework mode, with senior leaders we take care of all operational tasks, as for the players, we stay in contact with Messenger groups created specifically. » Yet another testimony about the first confinement of spring 2020 and the revolutions it brought to the world of work? No. Here, the witness is Andriy Sanin, first vice-president of FK Mariupol. His problem is much more serious than confinement or the obligation to wear a mask: his city was destroyed by the Russian army, as was the club in the development of which he had participated for more than five years. Admittedly, the sporting season in the Ukrainian Premier-Liha was difficult, one last place before Vladimir Putin decided to launch the offensive, “but with my colleagues, we shared great enthusiasm for the future of the club” . The institution could boast of still being in the elite, like its U19 team, and of having a full academy “more than 300 children aged 8 to 18” . Something to feel happy about. “We were doing the job of our dreams, we had good colleagues and we dared to dream of a European qualification. »

Stage and survival

Today, Andriy Sanin only dreams of one day being able to return and rebuild. “Our pitch had become one of the best in Ukraine since we installed a new hybrid pitch in 2021.” But the Volodymyr-Boïko Stadium and its 12,500 seats did not resist Russian fire. Like the rest of the facilities, three training grounds, an indoor stadium with 5,500 seats, now reduced to ruins. Given the violence of the Russian offensive, football could not be spared. With his wife Tetyana and his 10-year-old son Artem, Andriy Sanin experiences war in all its ugliness. “In the early days of hostilities, Russian warplanes bombed and disabled high voltage lines to Mariupol. The city was left without electricity and therefore without gas and water supply as well. The stores closed immediately, buying food became impossible… With a temperature of minus ten degrees outside. »

The indoor stadium before, and after.

To get water, the Sanin family “collects snow and melts it” to resist the cold, “we slept with our coats on, because it was never more than 12 degrees” and for eating, “we cooked very simply from a small reserve of food, before asking for help in the surrounding villages” . The worst ? “Neither hunger nor thirst, but constant shelling. After a while, we didn’t even react to take cover at the mere sound of guns. » Helpless, Sanin and his wife move their son’s bed into their room, “to stay together all the time, so that if a Russian bomb fell on the house, we would go to heaven together…”

“Like Aleppo, in Syria”

Within FK Mariupol, the objective gradually becomes the same for everyone: get out of hell together. “Most of the players were spared the situation because when the attack started the team was at Antalya airport, back from a winter camp. Today, they are on loan to other clubs, back to Shakhtar Donetsk for those who were loaned to us by this club…” In the first hours, Sanin reorganized the daily life of the professional group on the telephone, “between two Russian bombardments” and benefits from the help of the Turkish federation which temporarily lodges the team in a five-star hotel at its own expense. One of the greatest difficulties lies in the exfiltration of certain young people from the training centre, “because the parents could not come and pick them up” . Some educators then act as surrogate parents. “They clearly treated these young players like their own children, they are heroes, real ones. » Who must drink the chalice of war “until the dregs” .

The club headquarters before, and after.

For the 48-year-old man, the goal was quickly to shelter his wife, his son and his cat, a Scottish Fold named Carmen. The car trip from Mariupol to Zaporizhia takes ten hours, “instead of three in peacetime” because of the many Russian checkpoints. “They were looking for weapons, traces of powder on our hands or alleged nationalist tattoos…” Surprise of the war, Artem’s pet saves the Sanin family. “When the Russian soldiers saw him in the car with my son, it relaxed the inspection. »

Right now, Andriy Sanin can rejoice that his wife and son are safe with refugee status in Zagreb, Croatia, but has no doubt that “what we have been through will lead to post-traumatic stress disorder which will be difficult to treat” . As with all the members of his destroyed club, all the inhabitants of his town who “is completely destroyed by the Russian army as is Aleppo in Syria” . There are no buildings left intact and at the club, for the first time since he has been there, salaries are no longer being paid. “The most disturbing thing is to know that some of our young people and their families have not managed to leave the areas occupied by the Russian army. » Although the city was “erased from the face of the earth” that Russia is planning the establishment of an administration under its control, Andriy Sanin wants to remain optimistic and believe in “a Ukraine that will survive war and the ability to resuscitate Mariupol…” And if the city rises from its ashes, “impossible to imagine the new Mariupol without its football club” .

By Nicolas Jucha
Interview by NJ
Photos provided by Andriy Sanin.

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