Since the Russian army invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the lives of people in the country drastically changed, including those of professional footballers.
"We never stopped working, we even increased our number of activities," Roman Mozorov, the All-Ukrainian Association of Professional Football Players (AUAPFP) general manager, told FIFPRO.
The invasion began just a few days after the association’s annual training camp for out-of-contract players. One of the AUAPFP’s first initiatives was helping evacuate players and their families from combat zones to safer regions in Ukraine, and offering support to foreign players who wanted to leave the country.
In total, Mozorov estimates his organisation helped around 250 Ukrainian and foreign players. The association did this in close collaboration with other FIFPRO member unions.
“We also started a collaboration with the Ukrainian trade union of athletes and actively provided humanitarian aid to professional athletes, military battalions, and citizens. The aid included among other things personal hygiene products, medical supplies, medicines, child-care, and food.”
The AUAPFP also provided legal assistance to footballers from clubs that withdrew from competitions and advised Ukrainian players – especially minors – who were abroad when the war started with finding a club or adapting to the new reality.
“Our most ambitious task in the first weeks was to support the women’s players of FC Mariupol. We provided all the players and their families with a place to live, humanitarian aid and food,” Mozorov said.
“We are constantly in touch with the Mariupol players and support them with their project. They opened a small factory for producing frozen food. During their free time between training sessions, the players make pancakes, meatballs, dumplings and other dishes by hand. Part of the revenue goes towards the club and the rest to people affected by the war.”
All-Ukrainian Association of Professional Football Players
• Division: Europe
• Established: 2010
• FIFPRO Member since: 2012
• Website: apfu.org.ua
The football careers of many players have been severely affected. Many ended up being unemployed as over 24 of the 72 professional teams have disappeared from Ukraine’s football map due to the invasion.
“We hope that some of these clubs will be able to participate in next season’s competitions,” said Mozorov.
He continued: “Players have been left not only without funding but also deprived of the opportunity to train fully. For a professional athlete this is a real catastrophe and a threat to their future career. That is why it was so important for us, to fully organise a large-scale training camp together with FIFPRO during this challenging period.”
The special training camp for free agents welcomed 32 players, the most ever in the history of the association’s training camp. “We succeeded in carrying out everything we had planned despite numerous inconveniences and obstacles caused by the war: constant air raids when players had to listen to lectures of invited guests while staying in a bomb shelter to power outages, disruptions to communication and water supply, and difficulties in providing players with hot meals due to power outages.
“However, we managed to organise everything at the highest level: modern training facilities, a qualified and experienced coaching staff, quality food and accommodation for players.
"The players appreciated the help of our association and FIFPRO. They believed in themselves again, and in their own abilities. Most importantly, many of them received invitations to trials from professional clubs. We achieved the main goal of the project and we are proud of it."
In November, the AUAPFP also managed to organise its general assembly, which was held online after recommendations of state authorities. A player representative from every club attended the meeting. As part of the preparations for the congress, union representatives went to visit players to discuss their situation.
“Despite the challenging conditions of wartime, despite sirens, power outages, changes in their teams' training schedules, forced postponement of matches, and other inconveniences, we were able to make trips to 43 professional football teams – men’s and women’s; meet with players and provide them with the latest legal advice or information about projects such as education and player development.”
Despite the difficult situation in his country, the president of the association, Igor Gataullin, attended various FIFPRO events, including the general assembly of Division Europe in Montenegro and FIFPRO’s congress in Uruguay. In Montenegro, he addressed all attendees to accurately explain the dire situation of his country and its people and the status of the players and professional football.
Together with FIFPRO, Gataullin arranged special financial support for the families of players who died during the invasion, and for 30 other players who found themselves in extremely challenging circumstances due to the invasion.
Gataullin said: “On behalf of the AUAPFP, we would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the entire FIFPRO family and to all FIFPRO staff for your comprehensive support, which motivates and inspires us in these difficult times. You, the international community, offers a friendly shoulder and that is exactly what will help us, the Ukrainian people in our desperate and brutal battle against the aggressor.