The last time Katerina Glushenko was at Arena Lviv was to watch her hero Cristiano Ronaldo score a brace for Real Madrid.
Now, when the air raid sirens sounded, she followed dozens of others refugees into a locker room in the bowels of the stadium which is now a bomb shelter.
Mothers and crying babies sit in plush, padded seats for star players and anxiously await what Vladimir Putin’s War Machine can bring.
Businesswoman Katerina, 29, comforting two children Vladislav, four, and one-year-old Miroslava, told me: “I’m a big football fan but I don’t want to be here under these circumstances. .
“We were fleeing our home town of Dnipro when bombs started falling and we heard that we would be safe in Arena Lviv.”
The 34,915-capacity stadium in western Ukraine – where Euro 2012 was held – has become a haven for refugees.
Piles of potatoes to feed the newly impoverished were now piled up in the corridors. Warm clothes donated by caregivers are stacked in boxes in the dining area.
The arena’s TV press room also serves as a bomb shelter.
Up to 500 refugees are here at once. Dressing and feeding, volunteers can help find accommodation locally or arrange for them to get to the Polish border.
Once an amateur goalkeeper and a Real Madrid fan, Katerina’s previous memories of the impressive pitch have only positive connotations.
The mother of two was here to watch Shakhtar Donetsk lose 4-3 to Ronaldo’s Madrid in the 2015 Champions League match.
She also watched on TV as the venue hosted three Euro 2012 group B matches, including Germany’s 1–0 win over Portugal.
Arena Lviv is where FC Lviv and Rukh Lviv play their home matches. The national team has played here 14 times without losing a single match.
Katerina, who sells beauty products, added: “Hopefully there will be football matches here again when it’s all over.”
In a packed and pensive changing room in the bomb shelter, Kseniya Sokur, 32, tries to comfort her crying son, Gordiy, three.
The engineer – who is expecting a second child next month – has fled fighting in the capital Kyiv with her husband Vitaliy, who suffered from cancer and lost a leg.
Kseniya said confused, “We try not to show Gordiy that we are afraid.”
About 20 minutes after the sirens went off as this turned out to be a false alarm, we left the dressing room to return to the dining area.
The shrill whistles are not an idle threat. At 5:45 a.m. yesterday morning, I heard the distant sound of Russian fire from my hotel bedroom in Lviv.
Little Gordiy has his own way of dealing with war. After coming out of the changing room, he found some paper and pen and started doodling while sipping a glass of cola.
Nearby, mothers Masha Farenuk, 25, with three-year-old daughter Zory-ana, and Valentina Salhuk, 31, and son Artem, 10, prepare a hot meal.
Masha said: “The children were very nervous when they heard the bomb attacks. It’s good to be in a safe place like a stadium.”
After the Russian-backed separatists seized their home city in 2014, Shakhtar Donetsk played home games at Arena Lviv until 2016. The club is now helping to transform the stadium into a hub. refugee center.
Communication director Yuri Sviridov said: “In cooperation with local authorities, we have arranged for this to become a shelter for 2,000 to 3,000 people. Our staff is volunteering at the stadium.
“If other clubs want to send belongings, items like blankets, cushions, beds and pillows will be very helpful.”
The two Portuguese giants Benfica and Legia Warsaw, Poland’s most successful club, have pledged to help.
Yuri added: “Benfica is sending five trucks of food, medicine and clothes.
“Legia Warsaw has offered to use their stadium as a hub where it can collect aid from other clubs to send it to, before it is transported to Lviv.”
This sanctuary inside a stadium is a godsend for those fleeing Putin’s brutality.
Oleksiy Koltun, 40, his seven-month pregnant wife Iryna, 34, and two-year-old son, Lev, took two days to drive the 440 miles from Kyiv to the stadium.
The protester revealed: “Lev caught a cough and cold during the journey. My wife is also sick. But when we got to the arena, the volunteers were very kind. We had a hot meal and drinks and now they are helping us find a place to stay in Lviv. ”
Despite the hardships they endure, the refugees here are always welcoming and willing to talk to me about their uprooted lives.
The Ukrainian chivalry will be familiar to the thousands of Three Lions fans who came to Ukraine to attend Euro 2012.
England played France and Ukraine at Shakhtar’s Donbass Arena.
Supporters don the Irish Bar the Golden Lion of Donetsk with the flag of St George.
England fans in fancy crusader garb sunk the Obolon stele beneath the great statue of Russian revolutionary Lenin in the square opposite.
When I came back two years later, the city was already occupied by the separatists of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, sponsored by Putin, with AK-47s.
Separatist militias are blamed for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members.
He also met Sweden at the Olympic stadium, Kyiv, before being eliminated in the quarterfinals in the same venue by Italy.
Today Donetsk remains inside a breakaway region while Kyiv is under fierce attack from a massive Russian army.
Emerging from the stadium bomb shelter with daughters Kateryna, seven, and Eva, mother Iryna said: “I haven’t even heard of this stadium. But we found shelter, warmth and food here. I’m so grateful.”
The 25-year-old refugee added: “When the kids heard the sirens, I told them there was a fly in the sky.
“I still haven’t explained to them that we’re in a war and we could die.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/4886439/ukraine-refugees-stadium-cristiano-ronaldo/ The last time I was here, I watched Ronaldo score twice