Former Ukraine captain and coach Andriy Shevchenko presented Barcelona and Poland star Robert Lewandowski with a Ukrainian armband to wear at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
During an event at the Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw on Tuesday, the two famed strikers embraced as Shevchenko fastened the blue and yellow armband to Lewandowski’s arm.
“I’m very proud because I know what it means to support Ukraine’s people,” Lewandowski said.
“I know what it means to fight for freedom, we know the history, our history and that’s why it was clear to help our neighbors, to help the people from Ukraine and I’m very proud to wear this armband and to be on this side. I’m very glad and very grateful for everything.”
As neighboring countries, there are strong ties and a shared history between Ukraine and Poland, which has accepted more than a million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion since February, according to the UNHCR.
Lewandowski has long been among Ukraine’s supporters, calling for Poland to boycott its World Cup qualifying match against Russia just days after the war began.
When he played for Bayern Munich, the Polish captain wore a Ukrainian armband while his teammates wore black armbands to commemorate those killed in the war.
“First of all, I want to thank Robert for everything he’s been doing for my country,” Shevchenko said. “And I give this armband to him: this armband represents pride, power, some attachment to Ukraine.”
Football has assumed added importance in Ukraine in recent months.
The Ukrainian Premier League restarted last month for the first time since Russia’s invasion in February under the shadow of air raid sirens – one match held in Lviv was halted four times allowing players to shelter in a bunker – while the Ukrainian national team was thanked by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for “two hours of happiness” after defeating Scotland to reach the playoff final of World Cup qualifying.
“I think to be athletes, we have a very strong voice to tell the truth to the people, to keep awareness about what’s going on in Ukraine and tell the truth about (it),” Shevchenko added.
Alongside tennis star Elina Svitolina, Shevchenko has acted as an ambassador of UNITED24, an organization set up by Zelensky to direct almost $186 million of donations to the war effort.
“I know that when I wear for the first time this armband,” Lewandowski said, “if some people heard about what I did, for me, it will also be an amazing feeling, amazing time because I know that sport – also people watch, for example, football and different sport as well – and if they know what is going on, it’ll be easier to understand the situation.”
Lewandowski will next take to the field with Poland on Thursday night in a Nations League match against The Netherlands.