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Ukraine fans gather for emotional Wembley clash against England

Ukraine fans gather for emotional Wembley clash against England

March 26, 2023 (AFP)

Ukrainian fans turned a section of Wembley blue and yellow on Sunday as they supported their team during an emotional Euro 2024 qualifier against England that went "beyond football".

More than 1,000 tickets were given to exiled Ukrainians and the British families who have hosted them since the Russian invasion in 2022, helping to swell the contingent of away supporters.

Nearly 118,000 Ukrainians have been invited into British homes since the Homes for Ukraine scheme began, according to official figures.

Knots of Ukraine fans mingled with tens of thousands of England supporters on the approach to the national stadium before filling up one corner of the ground.

Oksana Romanukha, 39, has been in Britain for nine months after leaving Lviv in western Ukraine.

"It's above emotional I think," said the mother of five-year-old twins, who works for a UK-based charity that operates in Ukraine. 

"It's a lifetime experience for us today. We wish good luck to the England team but we want a Ukraine win."

Sign to Russia

Her husband, Andrew Romanukha, 40, said: "It's the biggest match you can dream about. It's about a sign to Russia and our enemies that we are standing together with the UK."

Daniel Severin, 34, had travelled from his home in Israel to watch the game in London.

"Even in this moment in our country we try to get together and try to support each other and the Ukraine national team," he said.

Rehina Haripova, who left Kyiv for Britain eight months ago, said being at Wembley was a "dream", though she was anticipating a tough game against Gareth Southgate's Euro 2020 finalists.

"There are good emotions because a lot of Ukraine fans will be in the stadium," she said.

England fans were silent during the singing of the visitors' national anthem, with the Ukraine players each draped in their national flag.

Both teams then lined up behind a Ukraine flag bearing the word "Peace" in front of an expectant capacity crowd.

England launched their Group C qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win away to reigning champions Italy on Thursday.

But Ukraine were playing their first game of the Euro campaign.

Ukraine captain Oleksandr Zinchenko, who plays for Premier League leaders Arsenal, said on the eve of the contest he would put personal friendships to one side during the match.

But the defender said he would always be grateful for the support shown by his team-mates and the British public during a "nightmare" year.

"I got a lot of support from all of them (team-mates), for which I am so grateful," said the player, who joined Arsenal from Manchester City last year.

"I would like to also say a massive thanks to all of the UK for all of the help and support for all of us Ukrainians, for the country, our people, all of the refugees who are living here."

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