CRAIG HOPE: Ukraine’s remarkable performance sent a message of defiance and dignity and showed that they truly belong at World Cup level… but tears of joy will only flow when the war is over
- Police were not needed here for an occasions governed by a longing for peace
- In a better world, Ukraine fans would be at home watching this game on TV
- The feeling you were left with was few Ukrainians felt lucky to have a ticket
- What played out on the pitch was remarkable as visitors sent message to world
- Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates
There were tears, but no tear gas. Not like in Paris at the weekend. In fact, there were very few police. They were not needed here, not for an occasion governed by respect and a collective longing for peace.
In the hours before kick-off, on a grass bank outside Hampden Park, supporters of Scotland and Ukraine gathered as one. For once, a half-and-half scarf did not feel at all crass or gimmicky.
That so few of those in yellow and blue spoke English, though, left you in no doubt as to this – they never intended to be here in the first place. In another world, a better world, they would be at home watching this game on TV. For them, home is Kyiv, Kharkiv or Donetsk. Not Glasgow, Edinburgh or Belfast.
Ukraine beat Scotland to set up showdown with Wales for a place at the World Cup in Qatar
One elderly man was locked in conversation with a Scottish couple of similar vintage. He could offer little more than, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you’, but the gratitude was genuine and prolonged.
The feeling you were left with, however, was that very few Ukrainians felt particularly lucky to have a ticket. That may have changed a little come full-time, of course, given a victory that takes them one game away from the World Cup.
But this was no lads away day supping ale beneath the summer sun. For Ukraine, darkness pervades, life frozen on that winter’s day in February when Russian tanks crossed their border.
Anna Bushtruk, 28, was among a group made up predominantly of women, among them her sisters, mother and grandmother.
The Ukrainian national anthem was sung with spine-tingling gusto by 2,000 of their countrymen
‘We are from Kyiv,’ she said. ‘We left end of February. We now live Northern Ireland. We don’t know when we can go back. We don’t know what has happened with our house. But we had to be here, to say thank you for the support of UK people and to support our guys on the pitch.’
Lillia Fedorets, 30, had also flown over from Belfast. Her English was broken. So, too, was her voice. ‘It is so hard… we want to be happy,’ she said, wiping away tears. ‘But it’s hard. Our friends, so many people, they are in Ukraine. We just have to wait. We come here to see our people, and to see the people who stand with us.’
It was a very different mood 12 months ago, when Ukraine played here in the last 16 of Euro 2020 and were 2-1 winners against Sweden. They wore ‘Shevchenko 7’ shirts that night. Those same shirts were visible here, too, but how much heavier they must weigh given the worry of the situation in their homeland.
By the time the Ukraine players emerged in the minutes before kick-off, each was draped in his country’s flag. That is their weaponry.
The feeling you were left with was very few Ukrainians felt particularly lucky to have a ticket
The Ukrainian national anthem was sung with spine-tingling gusto by 2,000 of their countrymen, as well as those locals attempting to add their voice. But the Scots were soon silenced.
What played out on the pitch was remarkable. If the spirit and tenacity of those in yellow is reflective of their compatriots on the frontline, it is little wonder Russian forces have been repelled. Scotland were no match for them on this battlefield.
Ukraine’s performance sent a message to the world. One of, primarily, defiance and dignity. But also that, on this evidence, they truly do belong at a World Cup.
Still, you would be wrong to label their tears joyous – they will only flow when the war is over.
But you would be wrong to label their tears joyous – they will only flow when the war is over