February 23 was a normal day at home for Serghiy Palkin in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Twenty-four hours later it was anything but normal.
Shakhtar Donetsk CEO would wake up to the sound of bombing and explosions as Russian troops flooded the country.
Tens of thousands of panicked Ukrainians fled from the north, east and south trying to get to safety, while 40 soldiers were killed that day.
By morning, Russia invaded the whole country by land, sea and air. By sunset, Russian special forces and airborne troops had seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after fierce fighting and were pushing into the outskirts of the capital Kiev, according to Ukrainian media.
“I remember waking up to the sound of bombing and explosions, and it was surreal, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing,” Palkin recalled.
In the morning I was at home with my family and in the evening I drove to the offices of the clubs in Kiev to find a way to get all the international players to safety as soon as possible, as well as the young people in the youth academy from near danger.
“I remember driving there and seeing people scurrying around in a blind panic as they tried to get away. The feeling was terrible, something I can’t describe, and the thoughts that went through my head were: I hope my whole family is okay.’
Days later, and the process of getting Shakhtar’s international stars away from danger proved difficult for Palkin, as Russia had taken control locally.
Sportsmail spoke exclusively to Shakhtar Donetsk CEO Serghiy Palkin about the current situation
Palkin says all players are safe and have fled, with academy youth now in Croatia
“The football business was obviously irrelevant then,” the 47-year-old said.
“The league campaign was suspended and I was in constant contact with our foreign players and their agents. We had to consider different scenarios for event development and try to find the best solution for each player.
Fortunately, the foreign players and their families have now left Ukraine and have reached a safe place.
“The Ukrainian players reside in different cities, especially in the west of the country. Some of them are actively involved in helping the civilian population and the military.
“Others have joined the personnel of the humanitarian center in Lviv. There are even some staff members who have joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defense Force.”
The Shelter Center in the Arena Lviv houses people who give them made beds
Refugees get their own space and seat to stay safe and free from attack
Football club employees help city residents with supplies and food
Refugees arrive daily with all their personal belongings when they flee
Deliveries arrive at the Shelter Center in Lviv and provide the people with supplies and blankets
Since the outbreak of the war, Palkin has been helping in the Humanitarian Center in Arena Lviv.
‘The club is involved in the operation of the Shelter Center in the Arena Lviv to receive and receive refugees there.
“The chairman of our club, Mr. Rinat Akhmetov, is actively helping the population with food and medicine through his charitable foundation. His companies support the military and territorial forces.
‘Our employees are there most of the time to help refugees and many people with supplies and beds to sleep at night. I say sleep, but that’s something people, as you can imagine, struggle with right now.
‘Now it’s about the evacuation of our academy children. I worked with other club staff to get them out of Ukraine and luckily with the help of the authorities they managed to get to Split in Croatia.
“They’re all safe and sound, and they’ll be training on Monday. There are 85 youth players aged 13-17 there. All have regular contact with their parents.’
Palkin gave his views on the invasion and hopes peace talks between the two countries will come as soon as possible.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable, tragic and very sad. Children being killed, the constant shelling near my house and our academy children having to help flee to safety, it’s like something out of a horror movie.’
“There was fighting going on near my house along with constant shelling, you look and think to yourself, is this really happening?
Apartment buildings in the center of the Ukrainian capital Kiev remain target
The streets and parts of the city are littered with debris from the mass destruction that has been caused
The capital is partially in shambles, with people fleeing to western Ukraine for safety
“Having visited other cities a few times, most recently Mariupol and Kharkiv, I can only say they are a disaster.
“The invading army is destroying peaceful cities and the inhabitants, killing children – these are crimes against humanity, for which everyone involved must be held accountable.
Palkin then said he believes Ukraine can continue to hold off the Russians and win the war, but says more support is needed in their efforts to defeat Vladimir Putin’s attacks.
“I believe Ukraine will win this war. But we need support. Today Ukraine is not just fighting for its own country, Ukraine is defending all of Europe and the values of the free democratic world. If we don’t stop this war together, tomorrow it will take place in Central Europe.
“We have no choice but to hope that the war will end. All wars end sooner or later through negotiations and I hope that Russia’s war against Ukraine will also end as soon as possible.’
“People are aware of the support from outside the country, and we can’t thank everyone enough.
“Ukrainians have shown to the whole world that they are ready to defend their independence, but it will be difficult to face the aggressor country with an order of magnitude and more resources without outside help.
Palkin continues to hope that the war will end soon and only then will he look to the future
That is why the whole world must unite and continue the pressure without stopping until this war is over. This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, this is Russia’s war against humanity and against the entire civilized world whose core values are democracy, freedom, respect for human dignity and human rights.’
Palkin eventually said he won’t look to the future until the war is over.
‘The day after the war we start thinking and talking about the future. At the moment we have absolutely different priorities and goals – they are focused on our victory and we will do everything we can to win.
“In this case, I would like to quote the club president, Mr Akhmetov, who says that we are sure that Ukraine will win this war, that we will rebuild the country. he is ready to invest all his efforts and resources so that Ukraine recovers and becomes a strong and prosperous country again.
“I share the President’s position and I am sure that Ukraine will emerge from this war as a strong and united nation, strengthening Europe’s integrity and being its reliable ally in security and further development.” .’