Band Fernando Kallas
CORDOBA, February 25 (Reuters) – With tears blurring the words ‘No war’ written on his cheeks, Ukrainian basketball star Artem Pustovyi said the national team wanted to be ‘strong like the whole country’ in Thursday’s game against Spain just hours after the invasion of Russia.
“It must be the hardest day of my life. We were all awake at 5 a.m. with the news of the war and the invasion,” Pustovyi told Reuters after the World Cup qualifier. FIBA in Cordoba.
A minute’s silence was observed before and after the game, which Spain won 88-74, as the sold-out crowd in the Palacio Vista Alegre arena gave the Ukrainian team a standing ovation and many players melted into tears after the game.
“No one can believe what is happening in our country. It is impossible to think of a match when you know that your family is suffering, and your country is being bombed at the same time,” Pustovyi said.
The Ukrainian national team arrived in Spain on Tuesday after FIBA postponed what would have been the second match between the two teams on Sunday in Kyiv. Thursday’s game in Cordoba was confirmed by FIBA the same morning.
“Believe me, it’s impossible for anyone to be mentally prepared to play a game under these circumstances,” coach Ainars Bagatskis told Reuters.
“I’m proud of my players for how they found the energy and the emotions to step onto the pitch. I hope no one has to go through what we went through today.”
Pustovyi said he understood the game had to be played and the team took the opportunity to show the world and the people of Ukraine their strength.
“We try not to panic and be strong like the whole country. The support we received from the Spanish fans was heartwarming. But it was also important to see our supporters in the stands because we share the same pain.”
A small group of Ukrainian supporters gathered outside the Palacio Vista Alegre arena to protest against the Russian invasion. Many Spanish fans stopped outside the team hotel during the day to show their support.
Ukrainian players, staff and media now face the uncertainty of what happens next.
A source close to the team told Reuters that a charter flight which was to take them from Madrid to Kyiv on Friday had been cancelled.
As Ukrainian airspace is closed, the delegation will fly to Madrid on Friday morning and stay in the Spanish capital while liaising with the Ukrainian Embassy.
“We are basically stuck in Spain until further notice,” the source said.
(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; editing by Richard Pullin)
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