On the morning of February 24, Andriy Jarmolenko’s whole world collapsed.
The day before, he had waved goodbye to his wife Inna and one of his children on the flight back to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined waking up in London to news of a Russian invasion and sudden fears that his family and friends were in imminent danger.
For the first time since the war began, the 32-year-old West Ham forward spoke to Ukraine’s Football 1/2/3 YouTube channel: “When it all started, on February 24, I came to training and I couldn’t even speak .
“I shed tears. I asked the coach to let me go home and then asked myself, ‘What do I do next?’
“I didn’t think that could happen. I sent them to Kyiv because my child had to go to a doctor for a scheduled check-up.
“Can you imagine how I was when it started the next morning?
“I just wanted to run and bang my head against a wall – what a fool to send my family to Kyiv and sit in London.”
Hammers manager David Moyes could not have foreseen these events either.
He has spoken about how helpless he felt in his attempts to offer comfort and support, while revealing that Yarmolenko was on the phone to family almost 24 hours a day for that first week.
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Thankfully, his wife and child are safe from harm. The star also admitted that despite Moyes’ and West Ham’s best efforts, he couldn’t have been further from football.
Yarmolenko added: “Right now, when I’m training or when I’m playing, this is the place where I can switch off from all the problems for a few hours.
“It’s good for you, but when it all started, I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, was constantly on the phone and called my relatives.
“David Moyes told me that I could choose whether or not to train and that I had to do everything I could to keep my family safe.
“I didn’t show up and then I realized I had to stay professional, so I came back. I just went insane and you need a distraction.
“I read everything on the news to know what’s happening and then watch some kind of football or a movie.
“But even now I don’t know what the other results are. Only the training ends and then the phone calls – all relatives are alive and well.”
It’s hard to fault Yarmolenko for not caring too much about the club’s race for the top four or their incredible European trip.
Still, he’s done more than his part since his return against Aston Villa on March 13 – scoring a 2-1 win.
He then struck in added time to prevail against Sevilla in the Europa League, booking the club into a European quarter-final for the first time in 41 years.
But his celebrations were muted, he closed his eyes and looked up at the sky with tears streaming down his face.
Yarmolenko admits that outside those gates he would see fans on social media wanting him to leave to get his wages off the bill.
He added: “Now I feel love and respect from all the fans because they see our country struggling. They try to support us.”
Earlier this month, a Russian airstrike killed 47 people in Yarmolenko’s hometown of Chernihiv.
When asked who else is there, he said: “My cousins help keep in touch with uncles and aunts.
“The ones where there is constant shelling are in an air-raid shelter. They hide in basements, like all humans.
“It’s really scary to talk about – to think how hostilities are going on all the time when I saw what was being done to the villages.
“I am now without tears. It is impossible to perceive.”
Yarmolenko has shared how his Ukrainian teammates are doing their part to help their country. Some have taken up arms, others are helping with shelter, medicine and finances.
After the first bombings, Yarmolenko called the mayor of Chernihiv to ask “what is needed for the military.”
He added: “My message is that not all people can fight. Not everyone can shoot. Now we have to help each other. If we don’t do this, nobody will help but ourselves.
“I’m sure no country will beat us, so I’m trying to help my hometown.
“I understand that when this all ends, many children will be left without parents, many families will be left homeless. We have to build together and help each other.”
For now, Yarmolenko accepts that showing strength is all he can do to continue representing West Ham on the pitch.
He said: “You see all these people in the stands with flags of Ukraine, you see your relatives and your own people fighting – how can you go out there not to play football?
“Go out and fight like your people fight. Thank God I managed to score important goals for the team and show how strong we are, whatever happens to us.
“No one will ever be able to break our spirit.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/4954863/west-ham-andriy-yarmolenko-ukraine-family-2/ West Ham star Andriy Yarmolenko reveals heartache at sending his family home to Ukraine just a day before the Russian invasion