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8 May, 2024 23:42

Ukrainian army recruiters ‘abduct’ pro footballer – club

FC Khust says the move threatens the sport’s survival in Ukraine
Ukrainian army recruiters ‘abduct’ pro footballer – club

Football clubs from around Ukraine are refusing to travel to Transcarpathian Region for games after recruiters snatched a key player of FC Khust from the local train station, the club said in an appeal for public support.

Transcarpathia is Ukraine’s western-most region and borders four countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. During the conflict with Russia, the mountainous region has become an increasingly popular destination for draft dodgers seeking to escape Ukraine.

Nikolay Sirash was at the Khust train station on Tuesday when conscription enforcers seized him, the club said in a Facebook post. Sirash had just turned 25, but the new rules allowing the mobilization of men under 27 have yet to go into effect, the club noted.

“We have no contact with the player at the time, and his fate is unknown,” FC Khust said.

The club was founded in 2019 and competed in the regional league until 2022, when it was promoted to Ukraine’s Second League. Last year, it qualified for promotion to the First League. Now, however, other teams have refused to travel to the region and put their players at risk of conscription, according to FC Khust.

Only some of the clubs in Ukraine received exemptions from mobilization, FC Khust noted, adding that it seems impossible to hold an all-Ukrainian cup with only three participants.

“Help save Ukrainian football,” the club appealed to the heads of the national and regional football associations, as well as the regional military administration.

Ukraine has been desperate to replace nearly half a million casualties – by Moscow’s estimates – since the outbreak of hostilities with Russia in February 2022. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said last week that Ukraine has lost more than 111,000 soldiers in 2024 alone.

Last month, President Vladimir Zelensky enacted amendments to the conscription rules, lowering the draft age to 25 and automating summons, among other things.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in Kiev passed a measure that would allow the conscription of certain classes of criminals. They have yet to discuss the possibility of releasing any of the conscripts from service.

In response to the changes, there has been a surge in Ukrainians trying to flee the country. Border Service spokesman Andrey Demchenko said in a recent interview that around 120-150 people are stopped from leaving every day. On Monday, the Ukrainian border service captured a man who tried to flee into Hungary dressed as a woman. Meanwhile, six men drowned while trying to swim across the Tisza River into Romania, according to local media.