IRPIN, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian children have started playing soccer again at a bombed-out stadium outside Kyiv, a much-needed distraction after more than four months of war.

Champion Stadium was heavily damaged in the weeks following the Russian invasion, when Russian forces reached the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital and occupied parts of the town of Irpin.

The stadium walls are still riddled with bullet holes, but much of the shrapnel has been removed and holes in the pitch from mortar shells have been plugged.

Danylo Kysil, 26, stadium coach and Olymp Irpin team manager, helped with the cleanup.

“When we saw the stadium with the first people who came after the liberation, it was very dark. There were shrapnel and garbage everywhere,” Kysil told Reuters after leading a group of a dozen boys during soccer practice.

When asked how he felt welcoming the kids to training, Kysil said: “I had to show that everything was okay on the outside, so the kids wouldn’t feel my emotional drain. “

Eleven-year-old Denys Voitovych, who plays in midfield for Olymp Irpin, said he was relieved to be back on the pitch.

“I’m very happy that we can play football now instead of staying at home, playing games and watching stupid videos on the tablet,” he said.

Danyilo Rohalskyi, also 11, said he was enjoying being back with friends and having the chance to work on his football skills.

(Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.