In a Kyiv market, Ukrainians take heart from team's inspiring play at Euro 2024

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian fans took heart from their team's inspiring finish at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament, despite being eliminated from the tournament.

As Ukraine's match in Stuttgart ended 0-0 against Belgium on Wednesday, around 1,000 fans who had gathered at an indoor market in Kyiv sang the national anthem.

“A strong nation is one that stays united and supports each other at all times, both in defeat and in victory,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in an online post after the game.

“Today, we thank Ukraine’s National Football Team. Despite the unfortunate result, they fought for our country. Our great victories are ahead.”

Anastasia Plokha said she attended the fan event to honor the memory of her husband, who was killed in the war following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“I so (strongly) supported our Ukrainian team today. They played excellently.” the 27-year-old fitness trainer said. “I think it was a difficult game, but they fought a lot. And maybe (needed) a little bit of luck.”

All four teams in Group E finished with four points. Romania ended up first, followed by Belgium and Slovakia. Ukraine was last on goal difference.

Ukraine had lost to Romania 3-0 in its opening game and bounced back with a 2-1 win over Slovakia.

The viewing area Wednesday was set up inside Kyiv’s Rye Market, a Soviet-era building, despite wartime restrictions on public gatherings.

A mascot, a cardboard cutout of the Ukrainian team, and outdoor games were available for the children as the fans watched the game on a giant screen, often breaking out into chants of U-KRA-I-NA!

Yevhen Klopotenko, a Ukrainian celebrity chef who organized the event, said he was proud of the players.

“Our team showed they were ready to fight and that they wanted to win, and they were doing everything. Belgium is now one of the best football countries in the world,” Klopotenko said.

“They did a great job. And that’s why I just want to say thank you.” ___ Alex Babenko in Kyiv contributed.

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024