It was a rumor that the former international football star says he immediately took his “head and body” back to his native Croatia, where he lived at the age of eight when the war broke out in Yugoslavia. Was
So when his football club Shakhtar Donetsk was forced to leave Kyiv, the city that has been one of the team’s many temporary bases since 2014, at the beginning of the Russian invasion, unfortunately this was a scene from which Sarna was very familiar.
The former Croatian international is only 39 years old, but he has already experienced three wars in his life. First in Croatia in the early 1990’s, then in 2014 in the Donbas region of Ukraine – the real home of Shakhtar – and now in the rest of the country.
“It wasn’t a good memory,” says Sarna, Shakhtar Donetsk’s football director, of his childhood. “When I started to forget about it a little bit and started enjoying my life, I heard the siren again.
“I’m strong. I want to be strong, but sometimes it’s hard because of everything, because you’ve lost your home twice. In that moment, be positive, be strong and give everyone a positive impression. It is necessary.”
Srna – who managed to escape from Ukraine with the rest of the team the day after the Russian invasion – has found its strength in helping those most affected by the war in Ukraine.
Shakhtar, where Serena is a club legend after playing for 15 seasons, has been homeless for almost eight years since fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in 2014.
After retiring from professional football in 2019, Serena took on the role of assistant coach at Shaktar before becoming the club’s football director.
He is well aware that he and the rest of the team are in no position to compete on the front lines and are helping to lead the club’s efforts to provide assistance to Ukrainian soldiers and refugees.
Shakhtar is currently in the middle of a European tour – the ‘Global Tour for Peace’ – during which he will play against various clubs to raise money for those trapped in the war.
“We can’t compare ourselves to the people of Ukraine,” Srna told CNN Sport’s Don Riddle. “But we are a football team, we are football players and we are trying to do something we know how to do – and that is playing football.
“Whatever money we get from the tickets and sponsors of these games, we are sending to Ukraine for the children, for the people who are in dire straits.
“Join us [club] The President, Renat Akhmetov – who is still helping the citizens of Ukraine every day in various ways, medicines and everything – we are now like a family and we are fully committed to helping the citizens of Ukraine in this difficult time today. Trying Situation.”
Ahead of the opening match of the Tour, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Greek giant Olympiacos, the Shakhtar players wore T-shirts listing the places in Ukraine most affected by the Russian invasion, including Mariupol and Arpin.
Since then, Shakhtar has played against Turkish clubs Fenerbahce and Antalyaspor and the Polish team Lichia Gdansk, and a match is scheduled for May 1 against Croatia’s Hajduk Split.
The match against Gdansk earlier this month had a particularly moving moment when 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee Dmitry Keda came on as a last-minute substitute and scored the winning goal.
Kada, who had fled his hometown of Mariupol in Ukraine when Russian forces bombed the city, after three weeks in hiding, players from both teams rallied and celebrated.
Shakhtar’s head coach Roberto de Zerby explained after the match that Cada’s decision to come forward and score was “automatic”.
So far, Shakhtar says the trip has raised 8.2 million Ukrainian revenues ($ 271,000), about a quarter of which has already been transferred to the Akhmetov Foundation in Ukraine.
“When I asked the Ukrainian players: ‘Are you ready to play, for example, every second game, every third game?'” Sarna recalls. “More games [we play]More money for Ukrainians. ‘
“They answered me, ‘Darius, we are Ukrainians, we can do anything.’ And for me it was a moment I will never forget.
“But these are the people of Ukraine. I came here 19 years ago and they accepted me as part of their family from day one and my family and I will never forget it. I have lived in Ukraine more than in Croatia. This is mine. Home today I am Ukrainian and we will do whatever we can for them in these difficult times.
“I’m proud to live there, I played there, I met them because they are big-hearted, always positive people. They didn’t attack anyone, they were a centimeter from another country. Didn’t want to take the meter. And he’s a hero today. I’m so proud of him and personally, I’ll be with him to the end. “
Sarna says the war has been particularly difficult for the young members of Shaktar’s contingent.
Among them is a former captain of a club in Mariupol, who was invited to play with the team on his tour after “losing everything” during the Russian bombardment of the city.
“First of all, it’s good that they’re young,” says Sarna. “They have a long career ahead of them and it can only make them stronger. I would say one thing: Croatia’s most beautiful era was 10 or 15 years after the war.
“I am confident that Ukraine will remain united till the end and we will be fully united after the war. We will drink together, we will smile together, we will cry together. The most important thing at this moment will be peace. . “
On Tuesday, the 2021-22 season of the Ukrainian Premier League was suspended due to the ongoing war. On February 24, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev finished first and second respectively and will therefore qualify for next season’s Champions League.