FC Mariupol -- the Ukrainian club rising again in Brazil

April 30, 2023

FC Mariupol -- the Ukrainian club rising again in Brazil

Ukrainian city Mariupol may have been captured by Russia but the football team lives on in the new name of Brazilian side AA Batel, "to show that our spirit cannot be broken", FC Mariupol vice-president Andriy Sanin told AFP.

AA Batel -- a third division team from the Prudentopolis region in Parana which has a large Ukrainian diaspora -- has adopted Mariupol´s name, kit, crest and logo and will take to the pitch sporting the colours on Saturday.

The port city of Mariupol fell last spring after a long siege although Sanin and his family managed to escape on March 22.

A week later "several Russian shells flew into my private house in Mariupol, and it was destroyed," he recalls.

Mariupol had been due to host rivals FC Kollos but instead by that time the Russians had bombed their training centre and occupied their campus. The team had to be disbanded.

"Mariupol was constantly subjected to artillery shelling; thousands of corpses lay on the streets," Sanin said.

"In such conditions, only one emotion remained -- the fear of death."

Instead, AA Batel have given the Ukrainian club a new lease of life, albeit thousands of miles away.

"FC Mariupol reached out, and it was an easy decision to embrace and pay homage to the team," Alex Lopes, AA Batel´s president, told AFP.

"Mariupol has been one of the most affected cities/regions in Ukraine. FC Mariupol lost their training centre and facilities, they needed urgent help," Lopes said.

"The whole process has taken many months.

"It was very emotional for me and for the whole community in the region to pay this beautiful homage."

To many outside Ukraine, the defence of Mariupol became symbolic of the Ukrainians´ resilience against Russian armed forces that on paper far outnumbered them in all areas.

"Our partnership with AA Batel within the framework of the #FCMariupolLives project is precisely designed to show that our spirit cannot be broken," FC Sanin said.

"Thanks to the support of the democratic world, Ukraine will be able to survive in its fight."

Unlike their storied rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, who were able to up sticks and move to Lviv when Russia invaded the Donbas in 2014 and seized the Crimea, this option was not open to Mariupol.

Sanin said such a move within Ukraine would have required strong financial and organisational capabilities, but "our potential was completely lost in the destroyed Mariupol."

Similarly it has been a huge task for Sanin to ascertain the well-being of the staff and players due to the chaos during the siege.

"We still do not fully have information about the fate of all the club´s employees who were in Mariupol at the time of its siege by Russian troops," said Sanin.

"Despite all the difficulties, we continue to collect information about our employees and where they are now."

Sanin says with their whole world collapsing around them, it has been important to keep the players and staff morale afloat.

"It was really very hard to maintain morale when the whole familiar world around is collapsing," he said.

"Therefore, one of the goals of the #FCMariupolLives project is precisely aimed at the club´s staff, to show them that we have the opportunity to survive and resurrect like a Phoenix in the liberated Mariupol."

Mariupol remains in Russian hands so liberation must wait for another day, but Lopes hopes that seeing their colours in action on Saturday can lift them.

"We hope to reach a vast number of people with this gesture and continue with the spirit of FC Mariupol alive.

"It will certainly be extremely emotional," he said. "After many months of hard work, we are overjoyed with all the enthusiasm from our community, they have really embraced this cause."

Sanin admits he dreams that some time in the future the club can head back to familiar surroundings, though hopefully still with a Brazilian touch.

"This is our main and only dream for Ukraine to win and be able to return to all the territories occupied by Russia," he said.

"Then we can return to Mariupol.

"We believe that one fine day, at the city stadium named after Vladimir Boyko, our players will again be announced on the field.

"And who knows, maybe some Brazilian names will sound among them!" –AFP

FC Mariupol -- the Ukrainian club rising again in Brazil