Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and Everton’s Vitaliy Mykolenko met at the halfway line for an emotional embrace as war continues to rage in their native Ukraine
Ukraine internationals Oleksandr Zinchenko and Vitaliy Mykolenko shared a moving embrace ahead of Saturday’s evening kick-off as conflict rages in their homeland.
Manchester City ‘s Zinchenko and Everton ‘s Mykolenko met at the halfway line as the two teams warmed-up for the Premier League encounter.
This weekend’s fixtures are being played against a backdrop of war in Eastern Europe as Russian forces seek to take control of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.
In response to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Poland and Sweden have declared they will not play Russia in a World Cup qualifier scheduled for March.
Furthermore, UEFA have moved May’s Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Paris and, beyond football, Formula One have cancelled the Russian Grand Prix which was due to take place in September.
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There was an emotional atmosphere at Goodison Park ahead of kick-off between Everton and City, with Zinchenko struggling to hold back tears as the teams emerged.
The hosts came out of the tunnel draped in Ukrainian flags while their visitors warmed up wearing T-shirts bearing country’s blue and yellow colours and the statement, “No war.”
Everton made sure their pitchside advertising billboards also had the colours of Ukraine’s flag and they did away with their usual air-raid siren pre-match soundtrack.
There was no Premier League anthem as the teams lined up, with The Hollies’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ ringing around the ground instead.
In his pre-match press conference, City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed Zinchenko was receiving support from his teammates and the club “unconditionally”.
“He is worried. He has family and friends there,” Guardiola said of Zinchenko. “If they are killing innocent people in your country, how would you feel?
“What we feel with our country where we were born. I guess that’s how he feels. The team and the club are close to him, unconditionally.”
Zinchenko and Mykolenko were named on the benches for their respective teams, with Guardiola admitting concerns over his player’s condition.
“He’s not in a really good place at the moment. We’ll certainly help him (Zinchenko),” the Spaniard added. “It’s a really difficult time for him and his family and we respect that.”
Discussing Mykolenko in his own pre-match press conference, Everton boss Frank Lampard said: “He’s okay.
“I’ve spoken to him, the club have spoken to him. He has every bit of support from our end, if and when he needs it. He knows that support mechanism is there. It’s ultra-important that he feels that from us.”