Despite lingering political tensions between the two neighbors, football fans in St. Petersburg still turned out to show their support for Ukraine in their Euro 2020 match against North Macedonia on Thursday.
Ukraine earned a vital 2-1 win against their Group C rivals in Bucharest thanks to first-half goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk.
The result saw Andriy Shevchenko’s team bounce back from their opening game defeat to the Netherlands, and put Ukraine back in contention for qualification with one more match to play against Austria on Monday.
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Over at the Euro 2020 Fan Village in St. Petersburg – which is one of the 11 host cities for this year’s tournament – the yellow and blue of Ukraine’s national colors were on display as football supporters cheered on the team as they watched the action on a giant screen.
Celebrations were heard after each of Ukraine’s goals as well as at the final whistle.
One Russian fan, Artur, was dressed in a Ukraine shirt told and RT Sport that he was offering his support to the country’s western neighbors.
“Why not support Ukraine?” he said. “A lot of people live here. There are a lot of families that are separated, they have mixed blood, Russian and Ukrainian.”
The build-up to Euro 2020 was marred when Ukraine revealed their new kits for the tournament, which featured a map of the country drawn across the front including Crimea – despite the peninsula being part of Russia following a 2014 referendum.
The kits also featured slogans linked to nationalist forces which sided with the Nazis during World War II.
Ukraine was subsequently told by UEFA to cover up one of the phrases – ‘Glory to Heroes’ – on the inside collar of the shirts.
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Artur was wearing an older version of the shirt which differed to the controversial versions released by Ukraine on the eve of the tournament.
“The new version is provocative, but this one apparently isn’t,” he said.
“But it does have the writing [Glory to Ukraine]… I think the label was put on to provoke unfortunately. They want to bring politics into it. I think that’s wrong.”
— Liam Tyler (@tyler_lj) June 17, 2021
The scenes of support in the St. Petersburg sunshine on Wednesday were similar to those during Ukraine’s first match at this year’s tournament, when they were on the wrong end of a thrilling 3-2 defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Shevchenko’s men earned a long-awaited win on Thursday which was their first at the Euros in nine years – since they won their opening match at the 2012 edition of the tournament against Sweden.
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Since then, Ukraine had lost six matches straight at the finals, failing to score in the first half of any of those games until Thursday’s win against tournament debutants North Macedonia.
The victory means Ukraine have put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time in their history.
Next up for Shevchenko’s men is a meeting with Austria in Bucharest on Monday, with fans over in St. Petersburg likely to be out to support the team again.