Ukrainian kids play soccer again in bombed-out stadium

Young players of the Olymp football club attend a training session at the Central stadium in the Irpin town, which was heavily damaged during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

IRPIN, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian children have started playing soccer again in a bombed-out stadium outside Kyiv, a much-needed distraction after more than four months of war.

The Champion stadium was heavily damaged in the weeks that followed Russia's invasion, when Russian forces reached the outskirts of Ukraine's capital and occupied parts of the city of Irpin.

The stadium's walls are still pockmarked with bullet holes, but much of the shrapnel has been cleared away and holes in the pitch from mortar bombs have been plugged.

Danylo Kysil, 26, a coach at the stadium and director of the Olymp Irpin team, took part in the clean-up.

"When we saw the stadium with the first people who came after the liberation, it was very grim. There was shrapnel and rubbish everywhere," Kysil told Reuters after leading a group of around a dozen boys in soccer drills.

Asked how he felt when he welcomed the children back to training, Kysil said: "I needed to show everything was fine on the outside, so the kids wouldn't feel my emotional exhaustion."

Eleven-year-old Denys Voitovych, who plays in midfield for Olymp Irpin, said he was relieved to be back on the pitch.

"I'm very happy that we can play soccer now instead of staying home, playing games and watching stupid videos on the tablet," he said.

Danyilo Rohalskyi, also 11, said he was enjoying being back among friends and having the chance to work on his soccer skills.

(Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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