Andriy Shevchenko, travel to Ukraine with the living legend of football

We accompanied the champion who, with red eyes, crossed his war-torn country to receive a special prize. Directly from the hands of President Zelensky

  sheva_zelensky_1920_1 The encounter in Kiev between Volodymyr Zelensky and Andriy Shevchenko Video

'My eyes are red, it will be the fault of all this dust.' Between Irpin and Bucha, Ukraine is the crib of Evil. It contains a bit of everything, but little good: bullets abandoned on the ground, broken glass, car carcasses riddled with bullets. The buildings of the past - and the paradox is that it was once a few days earlier than six months ago - can only be imagined. It takes an effort of imagination to reassemble the design, scrutinizing those enormous corpses of reinforced concrete - video

Andriy Shevchenko stops in front of a gutted apartment building. He raises his head, points to a roof that is no longer there. «Look, the workers are working up there: they throw sacks full of rubble into the street. Within a few weeks, the Russians wiped out everything we have built in thirty years, but we are not stopping. We have already started up again ». A sign near the entrance door was saved. The art of living well is the slogan shattered by events. “Many people lived in these houses. Whole families suddenly caught by bombs and missiles. Lives erased in a second. Men, women, children. They couldn't imagine, they couldn't know. It happened at the beginning of the war, when Russia wanted to take the capital Kiev, which is 25 kilometers from here. In Irpin, Bucha and many other places, civilians were massacred and their bodies abandoned on the street. Now the battle front has moved elsewhere. Kiev is safe ». At night, however, the anti-aircraft sirens still sound. Stop for a moment, Sheva. He runs a hand over his eyes. «Sorry, the dust ...».

THE HEROES ARE THE OTHERS - Two guys recognize him, ask him for an autograph and a selfie. The smile is forced. The winner of the Ballon d'Or, the winner of the Champions League, the perfect striker has given way to a Ukrainian man who has decided to let us cross the streets of his homeland: «I try to give my contribution with fundraisers, President Zelensky has appointed me ambassador of the United 24 charity platform, but I'm certainly not a hero. Here, the heroes are those who fight for survival every day, the people who give hope to an entire people. Sport, however, can somehow be a signal to restart, and now I am showing it to you. Let's get in the car ». The journey is short. Five minutes, including traffic lights. The destination is a small stadium. The missiles destroyed the grandstand and changing rooms, the bombs opened chasms on the field. 'But look over there.'

LET'S START WITH THE CHILDREN - Two children are playing football, they seem really happy and they don't stop running, because happiness doesn't get tired. 'Let's start with them, they represent the image of a clean future. In this stadium I have played many youth tournaments, with Dynamo Kiev ». Shevchenko approaches, the children stop. They have certainly never seen him play, they are too young, but they cheered on the national team he coached at the last European championship, the one won by Italy. Anyway, Sheva, in Ukraine, everyone knows him. He is a favorite son of his country. A good and kind person. They are excited but not shy: «We come here every day, we never stopped. Sheva, would you like to get in the door? ' Two penalties, two goals. 'Thanks Andriy.' 'No, thanks to you.' They hug him. They receive two brand new balls as a gift, the very ones used by professional footballers. Theirs were a bit old, worn by time and bruised by who knows what else. Sheva collects strange stones from the ground: they are pieces of fallen bombs. «The world must learn from its mistakes, this war must end as soon as possible. Let it serve as a warning, so that it never happens again. Nobody knows why the conflict broke out, yet they invaded us ».

THE FRENCH INVADE US - »Imagine this: being at home, perhaps on the sofa with your family watching a movie, suddenly the French army arrives and bombs you. What elsewhere may seem like science fiction is reality here. I hope for peace. All of Ukraine hopes for peace '. Sheva speaks, and in the meantime she walks. She stops in front of another partially collapsed building, a hundred meters away. Someone painted five sunflowers and five storks on the ruin. A mural that brings color back into the dark. “Even if it is difficult, the truth must be told. I am suffering, it is the first time I have returned to these places since the outbreak of the war. The world has to help these people and the most immediate way is to join fundraisers. Many have lost their homes and have nowhere to live. ' There are many places to visit, little time. She runs to leave nothing and no one behind. A greeting to the head of a school, 'but there is only a wall left of the institute'. A passage to the Vyshhorod sports center, where hundreds of kids are training. The little ones wear a blue uniform on which the map of Ukraine is reproduced, including Crimea. The older ones, in red, play in Serie B and are led on the bench by Oleksandr Holovko. 'We were teammates at Dynamo,' says Sheva as he signs autographs everywhere: on shirts, shoes, sheets, balls, books, even on one arm in a cast.

TRY TO REBUILD - On the road to Kiev, the woods on either side have become minefields. A bridge is being rebuilt: 'It's called the Bridge of Life, it was blown up by Ukrainian soldiers to prevent the Russian soldiers from arriving in the capital at the beginning of the war. A humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian refugees had also been created below. It was not respected, they shot people in line. Kilometers of people ». You are in a hurry, you have to reach one of the most guarded and inaccessible places on the planet on time: the Mariinsky Palace, the Presidential Palace.

THE CEREMONY - You can only get there on foot, crossing a park and dozens of check-points. At the entrance, cell phones must be given to two kind ladies. In the anteroom of the ceremonial hall, a young boy serves hot tea. There are pastries and still water. Sheva doesn't say it, but he's excited. He sits down, reviews his short speech. At 20 o'clock on a special Sunday, Zelensky arrives with his wife, to deliver him the recognition of National Legend. The ceremony goes by quickly, the President speaks of Andriy as follows: 'Many sports titles have glorified him, now as an ambassador of the United 24 platform he travels the world to support and help Ukraine'. The champion and the President shake hands. Everything in the salon is so clean that it seems to shine. Sheva's eyes are red again. And there is not even a speck of dust here.
Alessandro Alciato