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Stories of football fans who died defending Ukraine

Ukrainian football fans have long been a patriotic movement, ready to start fighting for their country at a moment’s notice. They participated in the Orange Revolution in 2004, the Revolution of Dignity in 2013, and later in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) that began in 2014 in the east of Ukraine. When Russia launched a full-scale invasion in 2022, football fans were among those who joined the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Here, we share the stories of five football fans who gave their lives fighting the enemy back.

This text was prepared by the Memorial Memory Platform that tells the stories of the Ukrainian military and civilians killed by Russia.

Photo from personal archive

Oleksandr Hrianyk, 28

callsign “Hrian”,
FC Dynamo Kyiv fan,
killed on May 8, 2022, in Mariupol

Oleksandr Hrianyk was born and lived in Kyiv. He studied at gymnasium No. 32 “Uspih” and later graduated from the Faculty of International Economics and Management of the Kyiv National Economic University, named after Vadym Hetman.

Oleksandr adored active rest: mountain camping, kayaking, skateboarding, and football. He travelled through Mexico’s jungles without knowing the local language. Oleksandr also loved dogs and dreamed of being a photographer in hot spots. He was a fan of FC Dynamo Kyiv.

In 2013, Oleksandr participated in the Revolution of Dignity. Later, after finishing his studies, Oleksandr completed a young fighter course and, in 2016, joined the ranks of the “Azov” Regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine. 

However, the man resigned at the beginning of 2022, as he wanted to live a civilian life and write a book about his military experience.

After the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, “Hrian” joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the second time. In particular, Oleksandr took part in liberating Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel from Russian troops in the Kyiv region. But all the time he had a desire to get to the besieged by Russian forces Mariupol and help his comrades from the “Azov” Regiment.

On March 27, 2022, he took part in the operation organized by the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine and took off by helicopter to the already surrounded by Russian troops Mariupol. He was wounded during the breakthrough but refused to evacuate, giving his place to a civilian. Until his last breath, Oleksandr defended Mariupol from Russian forces alongside his comrades. 

“There is a sense of family among the soldiers from the “Azov” Regiment. They are ready to give their lives for their comrades… The son knew this was a one-way mission, which did not stop him. Sashko [short from Oleksandr – ed.] used to say: “The main thing in life is love. And I love my comrades,” told mother Olha.

The body of Oleksandr was searched for eight months. He was cremated on January 14, 2023. The urn with ashes was buried on October 28, 2023, at the Lukianivske cemetery in Kyiv.

Oleksandr was survived by his parents and sister.

Photo from personal archive

Yevhen Kovalov, 33

FC Zoria Luhansk fan,
killed on April 20, 2022,
near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region

Yevhen was born in Russia but lived in Ukraine’s Luhansk region. He had a degree in engineering, particularly in heat and gas supply and wastewater systems. A dedicated football fan, he was part of the ultras supporting FC Zoria Luhansk.

In recent years, he worked as a welder in the Czech Republic. He loved to travel and dreamed of seeing the ocean one day.

When Russia’s full-scale war began, Yevhen returned to Ukraine from abroad and joined the Armed Forces. He became a senior gunner in a grenade launcher unit of the 110th Separate Territorial Defense Brigade.

“My husband was a decent and honest man, a wonderful family person, and a loving father. Despite having no military experience, he didn’t hesitate to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He knew what he was fighting for. He was a loyal son of his homeland,” said his wife, Olha.

The fallen Ukrainian defender was buried in the town of Novohrad-Volynskyi in the Zhytomyr region.

Yevhen was survived by his parents, wife, and two daughters.

Photo from personal archive

Denys Kotenko, 25

callsign “Shkiper”,
FC Dnipro fan,
killed on March 24, 2022,
in the Kyiv region

Denys was born in Dnipro. Since childhood, he loved books and had a passion for music, even writing his own songs.

He studied at the Faculty of History at the Oles Honchar Dnipro National University and was a devoted fan of the FC Dnipro from his native city.

In 2015, at the age of 19, Denys joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in particular the Azov Regiment. The man participated in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the east of Ukraine and took part in hostilities in Mariupol and Shyrokyne in the Donetsk region.

After returning from the frontline, Denys graduated from the university and planned to get a second degree in journalism. He led the “National Corps” [a political party that emerged from the Ukrainian military unit, the Azov Regiment – ed.] in his hometown and was engaged in social activities before moving to Kyiv.

From 2021, Denys worked at the Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine, where he wrote texts for the press service, managed social media posts, filmed and edited videos, as well as made presentations and infographics.

When Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Denys once again took up arms. The man served in the anti-tank platoon of the Azov Regiment and was killed defending the Kyiv region from Russian invaders.

“Our bright young man. Our brave defender. Our best and most talented colleague… We were worried, but to calm him down, we joked, ‘You’re bulletproof, we know,’ to which Denys would reply, ‘It’s all good!'” shared with his colleagues at the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

The Ukrainian defender was laid to rest at the Krasnopilske military cemetery in his native Dnipro.

Denys was survived by his parents, wife, and son.

Photo from personal archive

Vitalii Plaksin, 40

callsign “Khardkor”,
FC Metalurh Zaporizhzhia fan,
killed on August 20, 2022,
in the Donetsk region

Marine Vitalii Plaksin was born in the village of Sheliuhy in the Zaporizhzhia region. He was passionate about football and studied at the Zaporizhzhia National University in the Faculty of Olympic and Professional Sports, becoming a certified football coach. Vitalii was also a devoted fan of FC Metalurh Zaporizhzhia and played in local teams.

At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war, Vitalii joined the 503rd Separate Marine Battalion of the Ukrainian Navy. A Ukrainian defender was killed in the battles near the village of Pisky in the Donetsk region.

“A very hardworking and reliable person. He loved travelling around Ukraine. He lived for football. He was my best friend and husband. From the first days of the war, he volunteered to serve. He believed in victory,” said Vitalii’s wife, Kateryna.

The Ukrainian defender was laid to rest in Zaporizhzhia. Vitalii was survived by his wife and son.

Photo from personal archive

Viacheslav Matviienko, 31

callsigns “Siava” and “Island”,
FC Shakhtar Donetsk fan,
killed on March 22, 2022,
in Mariupol

Viacheslav was born in Donetsk and attended School No. 25 in Makiivka, the Donetsk region. From a young age, he was passionate about football and also liked to draw and read.

Viacheslav studied at the Donetsk Polytechnic College and graduated as a water supply and drainage technologist. At 16, he joined FC Shakhtar’s fan sector.

When Russia started its military aggression in the east of Ukraine in 2014, Viacheslav moved with his wife, Khrystyna, to the Dnipropetrovsk region. The following year, their daughter was born, and the family relocated to Mariupol.

Then, Viacheslav decided to defend his homeland. In 2016, he signed a contract with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, serving in the 54th Separate Mechanized Brigade under the callsign Siava. The man participated in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In 2019, he transferred to the Azov Regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine, where he served until his death. In this new unit, he received the callsign Island.

From the first days of Russia`s full-scale war, Viacheslav and his comrades defended Mariupol, particularly at the Azovstal plant. He fought as a rifleman and gunner in the grenade launcher section of a fire support platoon.

“We weren’t close friends but on the same wavelength… Rest in peace, Siava! We’ve got your back!” wrote Viacheslav’s comrade Vitalii Ovcharenko.

Posthumously, Viacheslav was awarded the Order of Courage, III Class.

“In 2017, while serving in the Armed Forces, he began writing a book. Unfortunately, it was in electronic form and remained on his phone. The book was about the struggle we must endure in war and everyday life. He often thought what he would do if not for the war, increasingly concluding that he could not live without this fight,” added Viacheslav’s loved ones.

Viacheslav was survived by his parents, wife, daughter, and other relatives.

There are many other such stories of Ukrainian football fans who have proved to be a strong and unbreakable patriotic movement. Without hesitation, they joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces to protect their country, as well as the democratic ideas and principles they truly believe in. We are extremely grateful to all Ukrainian defenders who fought for our homeland and sacrificed their lives.