Football: Ukrainian diaspora descends on Glasgow for World Cup playoff

Ukraine fans ahead of the playoff between their team and Scotland. PHOTO: REUTERS

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND (REUTERS) - Decked out in blue and yellow shirts and flags, Ukrainians from around the world have arrived in Glasgow to support their country's national team in their World Cup qualifier against Scotland on Wednesday (June 1).

While at first glance, the gatherings in pubs and bars looked like the build up to any other international match, inevitably the mood is tempered by constant reminders of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"You have to understand one thing, as much emotion as we are going through, this is nothing compared to what people in Ukraine are going through, we are here for them," said Vitaly Mitninsky, who had flown from his home in New York.

The match was originally scheduled for March but was postponed following the Russian invasion, which Moscow calls a 'special operation'.

The winner of the game at Hampden Park will face Wales in the final playoff in Cardiff on Sunday with a place at the World Cup in Qatar in November at stake.

Organisers had been expecting UK-based Ukrainian fans to travel to the match but in the bars in the centre of the city it was clear that many had also arrived from much further afield.

Ukrainian supporters from Australia, the United States, Germany and Israel were among those enjoying a drink before the game with no shortage of handshakes - and drinks - offered from friendly Scotland fans.

"In the bar, the Scottish people want to buy me a drink all the time and I tell them - I can pay for myself, if you want to help someone, help people in Ukraine," said Mitninsky.

The Ukraine-born New Yorker had met up with his Australia-based friend Sergey Budkin, who he had travelled with on previous football trips. Budkin said it had been encouraging to meet Ukrainian refugees who had found safety in the United Kingdom.

"We try to support the national team wherever it is, but our message is also to support the Ukrainian people, support the people in Ukraine who are fighting for us, fighting for everybody, it really is an existential war, for the future of civilisation" said Budkin.

Daniel Mesky, who had travelled from Beersheba in Israel for the match, said he was glad well-meaning suggestions that Ukraine be handed a place in Qatar had not materialised.

"I think that we need to fight on the football field. Ukrainians also fight. Today, it is time to fight on the football field and I hope that we will win. Then maybe in two months we will win our main battle against our occupier," he said.

Ukraine fans before the World Cup playoff between their country and Scotland. PHOTO: REUTERS

With so much sympathy and support for Ukraine, Scotland fans find themselves in the awkward position of hoping their team can end any hopes the Ukrainians have of reaching the World Cup.

Home fans are being encouraged to sing along to the Ukrainian national anthem, with phonetic lyric sheets being provided to the "Tartan Army" supporters.

But for fans like Steven McBride, the support for Ukraine then has to be put on hold for 90 minutes.

"We know that it is Scotland against the rest of the world, that is what the consensus is going to be, but we have got to remember what this is all about - getting to the World Cup.

"When it comes to the war, the invasion, we are behind Ukraine 100 per cent. But we have got to win today," he added.

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