Vladislav Vashchuk: "I was sure that the darkness would not be able to reach such a level, but the Russians did it"

2024-02-25 10:41 Former Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine national team defender Vladyslav Vashchuk, who is currently serving in the ... Vladislav Vashchuk: "I was sure that the darkness would not be able to reach such a level, but the Russians did it"
25.02.2024, 10:41

Former Dynamo Kyiv and Ukraine national team defender Vladyslav Vashchuk, who is currently serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, gave a big interview on the topics of the war to the Polish publication Przeglad Sportowy on the second anniversary of Russia's attack on Ukraine.

Владислав Ващук

- Why did you join the National Guard?

- At the very beginning of the war, I saw the Russian occupation with my own eyes. For 15 days I could not leave Gostomel, where I lived. There were many helicopters flying around, so we decided to stay at home and hid in the basement. I stayed there for a fortnight.

I joined the National Guard to keep my children safe from the fighting. I'm setting an example, but I'm also doing it for myself. I know that if I take part in the war, I will help our army win.

- Before the war started, did you expect that Russia would actually invade Ukraine?

- I didn't really believe in it. On the evening of 23 February, I said that there would be no war. I was sure that the darkness would not be able to get to that level, but the Russians did. It was a shock to us that we were attacked.

- What did the occupation of Gostomela look like? What were you doing at the time?

- I was not prepared for what happened. I spent two weeks there and had enough food for three days. I lived there only with my daughter and son (he is divorced from his wife - editor's note), and after seven days I started to get in touch with my neighbours. They helped me a lot, provided me with food and water. It is incomprehensible that in the 21st century I was sitting in a cellar.

We had hard times, but there were 18 people sitting in our neighbours' basement. The shelling went on for 15 hours every day. It was not far from where Russian planes and helicopters landed, and then our army defended itself.

- Did you have any dangerous situations?

- I remember them trying to break through the entrance gate, I could hear them through the fence, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. I know they shot a lot of people and stole their cars.

- Have these events affected the psyche of your children?

- I tried to numb my daughter from thinking about the war, we played different games, I tried to make her laugh. And I always switched my son to sports, which helped him. When we had a chance, we went out of the cellar to the street, because we had to look for food. In between the shelling I went to charge my phone, but I did it only in the car in the garage.

- How old were your children then?

- My son was 19, my daughter was 12.

- Your son was already an adult.

- Yes, I was more worried about my daughter.

- Is your son in the army too?

- No, he's at university. I joined the army so that my children wouldn't have to go there and to help us win.

- Did you see the Russians?

- Someone told them that a footballer lives here. They came to my house and said they came to save us, I said "and who are you saving me from in my own house?" They didn't pursue the subject and moved on. I saw them when we were leaving Gostomel, when the humanitarian corridor was being created. Thousands of people were trying to evacuate. There were many bodies of dead people lying in the streets. I covered my daughter's eyes so she wouldn't see it.

- The Russians told us that we could safely go to Belarus, but it was dangerous to go to Kiev. They sent us through the city centre, and that's how we left. Thank God, on 10 March we left in a car tied with a sheet on which I had written that there were children inside.

- What happened next?

- I knew my sister was a volunteer and wondered how I could help too. They organised charity matches in Uzhgorod. I was ready to go there, but my friend, a military man from the eastern part of the front, said he didn't have night vision goggles. I said I could raise the money. In the end, I was given two night vision goggles and I was very pleased.

Then we organised a charity match and bought a military vehicle. We also raised money for a drone. My friend, the medical commander of the Burevii brigade, asked if I could organise a charity match. And I did organise such a meeting with football legends, there were also presents for the children. They were happy, and I was also happy that I could help.

After a while my friend, the commander, asked me why I was not in this brigade yet. I replied that I didn't know what to do there, he said "no big deal". I thought about it all night and the next day I signed a contract to join the Burevii. The military enlistment office was shocked that I went there as a volunteer, but I said I needed it.

- How did your family and friends react to your decision?

- Nobody except my children knew about my decision at that time. My daughter didn't understand anything. Only the next day she saw my Facebook post and asked: "Daddy, are you in the army?". "Yes, I told you yesterday," I replied.

Everyone else was shocked, very shocked. And even more so. But then they started saying it was the right decision. And, lo and behold, it's about to be a year since I've been in the National Guard.

- Have you ever had any military training?

- No, I've been an athlete all my life, played football.

- How did you find your way into this new reality?

- I took the oath of office, went through training, then became a paramedic working on evacuations, then a team leader driving a vehicle (he's responsible for making sure transport gets from one place to another - ed.). I went where I was ordered to go. I did 64 evacuations. I pick up the wounded, take them to the hospital, ensure that they correspond with their families and friends, organise other assistance. And if we have to go east, we go there.

- Were you directly involved in the fighting against the Russians?

- No, I only saw those Russians walking around Gostomel.

- Where is your unit stationed?

- Wherever necessary. I came back from the east on Monday.

- You see the war up close. Are you afraid for your life?

- I was more afraid for my children's lives during the occupation. And in the war I am accompanied by friends, I have weapons, and my children are not with me. So I am very calm, I always believe that nothing will happen.

- Did any of your friends or relatives die in the war?

- Last year, my classmate Serhiy Balanchuk (former defender of Kyiv Dynamo, died in Bakhmut - editor's note) died. And all my family and friends, fortunately, were not hurt.

- I read that the Russians during the occupation of Gostomel robbed your house after you left, and you lost medals and souvenirs related to your football career.

- Three or four days after we left Gostomel, two cars with Russians came and went inside my house. They stole my computer, video games, all my trophies. I lost what I had there before the war. But the most important thing was that the house was still standing. We repaired it because it was leaking. Friends helped with that.

- In 2003 you played for Spartak Moscow. You must have had friends from Russia. Did you have a contract with them after the war started?

- Yes, they called me when we were in occupation and asked me how the situation was. I put the phone up to the window so they could hear what was going on, but they couldn't believe it. They said, "You're shooting yourself." I replied that "Yes, we are definitely bombing ourselves, and I'm sitting in the basement like this." They only have false information. They said that we attacked ourselves, that it was an operation of Ukrainian special forces.

- How do you feel about the Russians now?

- Our task is to defeat them, and what will happen next is another question. Right now we want only one thing - a quick victory so that we can return to normal life, enjoy it and make our children healthy and happy.

- Unfortunately, there is no prospect of a quick victory for Ukraine, Putin does not want to end this war, on the contrary, he is constantly sending new forces to the war.

- If they came to my house, they can also come to Putin's and say that he needs to be "saved".

- What do you think about Poland?

- When I went to your country not so long ago to organise matches, I realised that some people wanted to quarrel Ukraine with Poland, which wanted to help, accepted many refugees and did a lot for us. The border was open so that our people could escape from the enemy. So I wanted to organise a gratitude match for Poland and raise money for the children.

However, relations between Poland and Ukraine are still not the same as they were at the beginning of the war. Farmers are protesting against the import of grain and food from Ukraine, border crossings are blocked, and political tensions have arisen.

I hope that we will return to the same relations as before. Everyone should realise that there is a fifth column operating on Russian money and working to drag our countries into the conflict, but perhaps the Russians will run out of money.

- There are many Ukrainians living in Poland, including men of conscription age. Not everyone wants to fight for their country, as you do. What do you think about that?

- Let me ask you, is Poland ready for war? If it comes to that, how many of your men will turn up at the recruitment centres and want to fight for Poland?

- I believe that we will never be in such a situation.

- But if we did, would Poland be ready?

- I don't think so.

- So why do you think all Ukrainians should fight? People are afraid, and we're defending our future right now. We are protecting Europe right now, hoping that Europe will treat Ukraine with the understanding that it should provide as many weapons and aircraft as possible and make as much investment as possible to help Ukraine stop the forces of evil from coming into Europe.

Everything that is happening is near you, and Europe is not ready to get involved in a war. But it might at least be willing to help Ukraine defeat the forces of evil coming from Russia.

- Are you still thinking about football?

- Yes, of course. I remember the first time I went to participate in an evacuation, the commander called me and asked if I was afraid, I said no. But then I saw that sometimes evacuation is difficult, someone can't breathe on his own, and I took part in it. If it wasn't for sports, I would have gone crazy in those situations.

And when I took part in an evacuation for the 15th or 20th time, I remembered the words of Valery Lobanovsky about how you can be calm in life. He said that for 15 minutes you should be happy about a victory or sad about a defeat, and then you should think about the next match. That's how I approach evacuation. I do my job and then the next one, otherwise I can go crazy. If the commander allows it, I play football. We are also required to exercise twice a week. We rest and gain strength through football.

- You are the most famous footballer who took part in the war. Do you know other sportsmen who also fight?

- Former tennis player Serhiy Stakhovsky joined the army, and Oleksandr Aliev has been involved in the war since its first days. But there are also many footballers in the ranks of the AFU that I don't know.

- On Friday, on the eve of the anniversary of the invasion, the spring round of the Ukrainian championship began. Its level has dropped significantly since the war began.

- Thank God, the Ukrainian championship is being held, the war has not prevented it from existing. Matches are held in the conditions in which they can be held, that is, they are interrupted when the siren sounds. The level of the league has fallen, but the most important thing is that our football exists. It is a very popular sport that attracts many people, including military personnel and Ukrainians living abroad. This is good for the fans who are fighting.

- Do you still watch the matches?

- Why not? Of course yes, when there is such an opportunity.

- One of your partners in the national team and Dynamo Kyiv Andriy Shevchenko recently became the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, and another, Serhiy Rebrov is the head coach of the Ukrainian national team. Do you communicate with them?

- I have no contact with them, though I wanted to get in touch with Serhiy. I congratulate Andriy on his new job. The guys are involved in the development of Ukrainian football. We are all together waiting for our Victory, we need to win the war and return to normal life.

- What did you do after the end of your career? You were the sporting director of Arsenal Kyiv, but that was in 2013. Since then, you haven't held a more important position in the world of football. So what were you doing before the war broke out?

- I was involved in children's football and business. I was building a stadium in Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, which was then shelled.

- Do you still want to work in the world of football?

- I will never part with football, I am strongly connected with it. I intend to build a children's academy linked to a school to provide children with a well-rounded education so that they are well-trained.

Talked to Maciej Kaliszczuk

Translation and adaptation - Dynamo.kiev.ua. When using - hyperlink is obligatory!

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