Just days before Ukraine kicked off competition in the delayed Euro 2020 soccer championship, which was previously schedule to take place last year but was moved to June 11-July 11 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andriy Pavelko, the president of the Football Federation of Ukraine, unveiled a new national team jersey on June 7 that featured a patriotic slogan and an outline of Ukraine that includes Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Mr. Pavelko, writing on his Facebook page on June 6 before the new jersey was unveiled, said that the Ukrainian national soccer team will wear “special uniforms” for the Euro championship. That uniform includes an outline of Ukraine on the front of the jersey and the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” on the outside collar, while another slogan, “Glory to the Heroes!,” is on the inside collar.
“We believe that Ukraine’s silhouette will give strength to the players because they will fight for all of Ukraine,” Mr. Pavelko said in unveiling the new uniform. “And all of Ukraine, from Sevastopol and Simferopol to Kyiv, from Donetsk and Luhansk to Uzhorod will support them in every match.”’
The official response from Russia was yet another sad attempt to whitewash recent history. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, said Ukraine’s football team “attached Ukraine’s territory to Russia’s Crimea,” while Dmitry Svishchev, a deputy in the Russian parliament, said that showing a map of Ukraine that included Crimea was “illegal” and he called the new uniform a “political provocation.”
After the new jersey was unveiled, Russia complained to Europe’s soccer governing body, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). In a statement, UEFA said that it has previously approved the map of Ukraine and the slogan “Glory to Ukraine!” and it announced that it would allow Ukraine to keep those elements on the uniform.
“The shirt of the Ukrainian national team (and of all other teams) for UEFA Euro 2020 has been approved by UEFA, in accordance with the applicable equipment regulations,” the June 7 statement read. However, in response to Russia’s complaint, UEFA has said that Ukraine must remove the phrase “Glory to the Heroes!” because the combination of the two phrases was “clearly political in nature.”
Despite the ruling, this much is clear. By putting both the outlined map of Ukraine and the two slogans on the jersey when it was unveiled, the Ukrainian national soccer federation has generated significant attention to the country’s cause and it has found a clever way to stick a proverbial finger in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eye.
Moreover, we expect and hope that, whether or not Ukraine is forced to remove the slogan “Glory to the Heroes!” from the official uniform worn by its players during the Euro championship, millions of people both in Ukraine and throughout the diaspora will purchase and wear proudly the jersey that includes the map and both slogans. Moreover, if Ukraine advances past the group stage of the championship, there is a chance it will play in St. Petersburg, Russia. How wonderful it will be to see Ukraine’s supporters wearing the new jerseys while singing loudly and proudly its beautiful national anthem.
And then cap it off with a rousing and hearty cheer of Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava!