Freedom-loving people the world over are shocked and horrified by Vladimir Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine. All football fans are anxious to show their support before matches – waving Ukrainian national blue and yellow flags and holding banners displaying messages of support.
For one Ukrainian in particular, Andriy Yarmolenko, the chance make his own mark of respect for his fellow countrymen, women, and children – to reward the loyal supporters of West Ham, and to release his emotions, came on Monday the 14th of March when he scored the opening goal in West Ham’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
The 32-year-old Ukrainian striker is never going to be one of the Premier League’s greatest strikers. One of the best was Andriy Shevchenko who after winning the Balon D’or in 2004, having guided AC Milan to be Serie A champions, winners of the Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Super Cup, then joined Chelsea in 2006. Now, he is helping to bring 150 people of various ages fleeing from the conflict in Ukraine to the UK.
But back to Andriy Yarmolenko. His opening goal against Villa which he acknowledged in tears on his knees, will probably live long in his and West Ham fans’ memories.
It was the first game Yarmolenko had been able to play during the Russian invasion because he was in no fit state to play and was given compassionate leave immediately after news of the invasion broke.
But 18 days into the conflict, his first game back provided him with the perfect opportunity to make his statement – and make it he did with the game’s opening goal. In a statement after the match, he said that he was thinking about his family and the Ukrainian people and that he tried to give everything on the pitch to express his emotions. He did just that.
However, he wasn’t finished. In West Ham’s 2nd leg return against Sevilla in the Europa League competition, Yarmolenko came off the bench to score for the second time in five days. This time it was the deciding goal of the game, scored in injury time. A goal that sees West go through to the quarter-finals of the competition.
The Ukrainian was again summoned off the bench in Sunday’s game against Tottenham Hotspur, this time in the 57th minute. However, sadly for him and West Ham, he had no opportunity to score, and his side went down 3-1 due to the brilliance the record-breaking Kane/Son combination.
But we hope in future games that Yarmolenko manages to continue flying the Ukrainian flag and scoring more goals in an ongoing tribute to his war-torn country.