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Aliaksandr Khatskevich: Why Are Domracheva And Sabalenka Silent About The War In Ukraine?

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Aliaksandr Khatskevich: Why Are Domracheva And Sabalenka Silent About The War In Ukraine?
ALIAKSANDR KHATSKEVICH

A tough interview of the star football player for the Charter97.org website.

Aliaksandt Khatskevich is a true legend of Ukrainian and Belarusian association football. At the turn of the 90s, he was one of the key players of the FC Dynamo Kyiv with a serious performance level within the Champions League, and in 2017 he returned to the team as a head coach, having managed to "rule" the Belarusian national team before that.

"I do have a favour to ask of you. In russian the countries are written with a capital letter, but russia is not a country for me today, I will ask you to write it with a small letter in the interview," Khatskevich outlined his position before the interview with us.

In an interview with Charter97.org, the well-known coach and football player speaks about the secret of the Ukrainian resistance, calls out the differences in the mentality of Belarusians and Ukrainians, diagnoses Belarusian football and reacts to the silence of the sports stars about the war in Ukraine.

"Many times I was offered to change my citizenship, but I kept the Belarusian"

– Aliaksandr Mikalaevich, everyone is now summing up the results of 2023. What was this year for you?

– The year, probably, as well as for all those who are worried about Ukraine, is quite difficult.

As for me, upon returning from Cyprus [Aliaksandr Khatskevich coached the Cypriot FC Karmiotissa - Ed.], my family and I stayed in Europe. So, it was necessary to resolve the legalization issues.

Why? The Schengen visa expired in Cyprus, so I could not go back to Europe. I waited about four months for a visa to return. It is quite difficult to do all this with our Belarusian passport today. But there is such an opportunity in Poland. Our family decided to make documents so that we could safely return to Ukraine. And it was possible to leave Ukraine with our Belarusian passport to Europe.

– What are you doing these days? The latest information that we can find is that you are a coach-consultant in the Skra Polish amateur team.

Am I a consultant? Likely wishful thinking. No, all this time I go to charity matches in support of Ukrainian children who have left their homes today and live in other countries. I am engaged in this great charity event.

– You had a big birthday in 2023. You turned 50.

– Yeah, we're getting older. But that’s okay. The main thing is your mind and health.

– Most of your career was in Ukraine, which has been at war for two years. You know Ukrainians well, don't you? What is their main secret? Why did russia get such a powerful rebuff, almost getting clobbered in Ukraine?

– It will get when defeated. Today, it's getting clobbered in Ukraine. Why? First, I can give you an example. The first is that the Ukrainian people are independent and love independence. When a treaty was signed in Belovezhskaya Pushcha in the 90s, many former Soviet republics sighed and abandoned this communist past. Everyone wanted independence.

Therefore, Ukraine loves independence, the people love independence, they were heading it all the time. And when the war began, first it was necessary to read and get the words of the anthem of Ukraine: "We will lay down our soul and body for our freedom."

What's the second? It's the morals of the Ukrainian people. Do you know why we're still fighting? Because we'd rather die than be russia. There is such a slogan. And this thirst for freedom, the thirst for life that was in Ukraine before the invasion, people appreciate it and understand that if God forbid, russia prevails there, everything will end.

Because the most important thing is freedom and expression of one's thoughts, one's opinion. You can easily criticize the president and the government in Ukraine. I have been living in Ukraine since 1996, I speak russian. I did not have any problems.

ALIAKSANDR KHATSKEVICH AND VALIANTSIN BIALKEVICH

– Do you feel like a Ukrainian at least a bit?

– You know, I am still a Belarusian, because I have been repeatedly offered to change my citizenship, to change my passport. I love my country. Yes, I was born in the BSSR, in Soviet times. But Belarus is the country that gave me life. Of course, I know the Ukrainian mentality very well, I understand their language well, I can speak Ukrainian, but not as fluently as I would like.

– Is there a difference in mentality between Ukrainians and Belarusians?

– Yes. Sure. If we talk about football, there were "1998 World Cup Is Our Goal" posters all over Ukraine when I arrived. However, the Ukrainian team did not get there. Then it appears again: "European Championship Is Our Goal". Missed again. As a result, Ukrainians get there because people have a goal, a dream, they go to this dream, achieve it. As for Belarusians, here are the words of the anthem that we have: "We, Belarusians, are peaceful people," and that's all.

"Footballers from russia do not exist for me today"

– Many people associated with football are now fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Are there many of your friends at the front?

– I can't say that any of my friends are on the zero line now. Some are volunteers and are there from time to time.

– Are there any people from the world of football with whom you stopped communicating after the outbreak of the war?

– I can't say that I stopped communicating with someone from the world of football. It is clear that there were once acquaintances when I played in the Soviet Union, there were contacts with the same players of the Moscow FC Spartak. But at the moment, they simply do not exist for me.

– And one of the Belarusian and russian colleagues called after the outbreak of the war and asked: "Aliksandr, how are you there?"

– There was not a single call.

– It was hot, after the outbreak of the war between Belarusians and Ukrainians, there were accusations. How are Belarusians treated in Ukraine now?

– You know, the position is important, and it should be clear and understandable. There are no half measures here today: you are either on this side or you are on the other side. You can speak Belarusian, you can speak russian, but you need a clear position. Then you will be treated by Ukraine and Ukrainian people accordingly.

PHOTO: UNIAN

– Do they know our volunteer guys well?

– I'll speak for myself. I have telephone contact with them, these are the people who deserve my respect, because they came to my house, they came to Ukraine treacherously, they came at night, as everyone says.

We need to talk about them, because the volunteers came to the defence of my house. If they came to Belarus, God forbid, like the "little green men" came to Ukraine in 2014, and eventually tanks would come in, and then a Ukrainian or a Georgian would come to defend Belarus, I would also respect them. Why shouldn't I respect the Belarusians who are fighting and dying for Ukraine to make it free?

"Why is Belarusian football managed by a farmer?"

– Do you follow the developments in Belarusian football today?

– Some information came across me. But I did not watch the games of the championship or saw the games of the national team, the last two years I am not interested in this championship and the national team at all, because I will definitely not see anything from a professional point of view there.

– What is your diagnosis for Belarusian football?

– This is a crisis. Severe crisis. Let's look at the ranking of the national team. I don't think it's even in the top 100 today. Then we will look at the club ratings of both Belarus itself and individual clubs. This is not even stagnation for me, Belarusian football has simply moved a very long distance from the European one.

– This is also such an indicative moment. The best player of Belarus this year was named Maks Ebong, although Illia Shkurin is spending an amazing season at the Polish FC Stal. What can such a choice mean?

– As they say, there is choice and there is no choice. You've mentioned Ebong. I do not know even where this football player is playing now.

– He is in Kazakhstan, the FC Astana. I think he's a midfielder.

– If a football player who plays in Kazakhstan is recognized as the player of the year, and a football player playing in the European championship is not recognized, and they talk about him here, he has good promotion, then probably this is the same elections as the presidential "elections" in 2020.

– And how do you like Illia Shkurin in general? Does it have potential? Can he play in some top championship?

– He shows himself quite well in Poland. I can't say I've seen all the games. I was here at the game with the Warsaw FC Legia, when Illia played this match very effectively and the team beat one of the leaders [Shkurin scored a goal and gave two goal passes - Ed.].

Plus, I see in the reviews that he is quite accomplished in his team. But this is the first year only, Illia for these six months, which he is in Poland, has adapted quite well. Therefore, he has the opportunity and the prospect of getting into a stronger club in Poland. Because the power attackers are valued here. He has everything ahead of him, he is still quite young.

– And why did he not manage to play in the same Dynamo Kyiv?

– You know, Dynamo plays different football, a positional style. Still, Illia is a more force player, pushing more on the counterattacks... Therefore, not every attacking player will be able to play in Dynamo Kyiv.

Maybe there was not enough time, or the coach had not enough trust. Also, he came to another championship, and Kyiv plays a different football. Maybe they wanted him to add a bit of power to Dynamo.

However, Illia gained experience playing in the Champions League. What Belarusian football player can boast that he played in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, Benfica nowadays? Anyway, this period contributed to his experience. And this is probably also the moment that helps him look confident in the Polish championship today.

ILLIA SHKURIN

– When you were the coach of Dynamo Kyiv, you gave a lot of practice to young players. The same Viktor Tsyhankov, who now shows himself in the Spanish FC Girona, Vitaliy Mykolenko in the British FC Everton. Can there be such young talents in Belarus?

– Of course, it is interesting to work with young people, but sometimes it is very difficult. Those football players you named have a football education, they have a mentality, respect for the coach is very high, they are quite intelligent guys.

The second point is Mykolenko, Tsyhankov, they did not look at the East somewhere, the guys looked at the West. Vitya knows English well. Vitaliy Mykolenko, playing for the first team of Dynamo, too. I know that the teacher came to the base and he studied English during the breaks between training sessions. Because they set goals for themselves to go to the top championships. And they knew that this would happen sooner or later. Someone left earlier, someone later. But most importantly, they have a sense of purpose.

You are talking about Belarusian football players, but today the Belarusian football player looks only towards this non-country of russia. And what do they see? What is the prospect of this? I can't understand.

I'm wondering, I don't even know in which teams the players who leave Belarus are playing now. Only a few people look towards Europe for some reason.

This suggests that there is no certainty, because there is a new mentality in the West, there are new requirements, and they need to be rebuilt. If they think that they will move to russia and improve their professional level, this is a road to nowhere.

And what is russia nowadays: neither the national team nor the clubs have the right to international games. And to look today in the direction of russia – in my understanding, as a professional, professional football player, it's just a lack of confidence in their abilities.

– Does it mean that the appearance of players of the level of Valiantsin Bialkevich or Aliaksandr Hleb in Belarus is rather an exception to the rule?

– They are exceptions. Not a single Belarusian football player even stands next to Valik today.

– Can there be top-level football in Belarus? Or are we just a non-football country? Maybe we should focus on other sports? Handball, for example, where we have some successes.

– You say "non-football country". Who is in charge of football today?

– The Minister of Sports is a former security guard of Lukashenka.

– No, he's the minister. Football is ABFF [Football Federation of Belarus - Ed.].

In my time, there was a pilot, then there was a cyclist, Rumas. Colonel Bazanau was there. Today – a farmer graduate of the Vitebsk State Academy of Veterinary Medicine, speciality Zootechnics, Viktar Sherstniou - Ed.).

Where are the football people? If hockey is led by a kayaker, tennis by a handball player, then what kind of development can we talk about? Why are these people, who are managing such special spheres like hockey, handball, tennis, not in their rowing and handball federations? Put me in charge of the rowing today – I am so heated that they will go in one direction of two, eight, four, and we will swim in the other direction.

– Does It turn out that the rot starts from the top?

– The state cannot lead everything. Sports must be professional and private. Yes, of course, there should be a Ministry of Sports that controls Olympic sports. But still, athletes must be in the organization, in clubs that are privately funded.

And when they say in Belarus: "How long do you want to feed sports?" It's better to let them act, to give a chance, and let people invest their money, so they demand results, so they can give the salaries they want, so they can invite legionnaires to raise any sport today.

But when the state controls how much you should receive, sets a salary cap, and imposes restrictions on trips, on fees, what kind of development can we talk about? And then they say that they "waste public money." Sports should be private.

– You have probably already seen the football system in Poland. If we compare it with the Belarusian one: a head higher, two heads higher? Is it possible to compare at all?

– I can say that I was not only at the Ekstraklasa games [the highest division of the Polish football championship - Ed.]. Some guys play both in the second league and in the first. The system is not only a picture on television, which shows that there are stadiums with 3000-5000 fans. I'm talking about the second league, the first, not about the Ekstraklasa.

All this is so far from Belarus. It seems that there are 500 kilometers to the city of Minsk, 200 kilometers to the border. But we are so far behind in terms of football and system... These playpens were built or inflated, so they were in Poland 20 years ago.

"The system holds Hleb tightly"

– You do not hide your position on the war and what is happening in Belarus. Why are many sports stars silent nowadays?

– Today it is convenient, you know, to say that "sport is out of politics". But you still represent the state that today helps the country that is fighting in Ukraine.

– Sabalenka, for example. Why is she afraid to express her position? He runs away from journalists. She seems to be a wealthy and successful person.

– These are independent people, they are millionaires, mostly living in America. Yes, they have parents in Belarus, but I also have parents in Belarus. Yes, our positions differ. But they are still my parents, and I can't see them today. They can't see me, and they are the closest people.

But I can't stay silent in this situation. After all, Ukraine and Belarus are close to each other. God forbid that Belarusians feel the horrors of war.

It is clear that it is easier for us to speak being in Ukraine or somewhere abroad. However, you need to understand the situation. What is happening now in Ukraine is a real war. And people want to call everything a "situation". "Some situation is happening in Ukraine." This word is war.

You can't say the word "war", that "there is a war in Ukraine", that "I am against the war"!?

Sabalenka says: "Any sane person is against war." So you are to say that you are against the war in Ukraine. Is it hard to say!? Is it hard for Domrachava to say that she is against the war in Ukraine!?

– These people are silent. But, for example, Aliaksandr Hleb is making pictures with Azaronak and attending propaganda shows. Do you think he is really an ideological supporter of this regime?

– If this is Hleb's conscious choice, then I feel very sorry for him. Perhaps this is a retribution for some of his mistakes, the system holds him tightly [perhaps we are talking about a fatal accident committed by Hleb - Ed.]. A person who has played in European championships all his career, he could always go abroad.

Therefore, he is a man of the system now. And the fact that he meets Azaronak... If it is on TV broadcasts and such bile from the screens, then I am very afraid for the future generation of Belarusians.

There are always two sides. My position is that these people are lying, and they are lying brazenly.

A sensible person can always find a reason not to get in a photo and not to be in the company of such inhumans.

– Do you believe in changes in Belarus? When and under what conditions can they happen in our country?

– You know, everything comes to an end one day. And the war will end. One soldier told me an interesting thing: the war will not end on the battlefield, politicians will end it anyway. The military – they are fighting. The same is true for Belarus, everything will end someday. When? I can't say that for sure.

At the moment, we need to be patient with those people who are in Belarus. You know, when there were elections in 2020 or 2015, all the people were saying that they did not vote for Lukashenka. But for some reason, he is still in power. You need to understand that today this power cannot be changed by elections.

– Would you accept an offer to work in Belarusian football if there were changes in the country?

– Over the past two years, probably, those people who saw the war have learned to live today and to like it.

Therefore, to say today that I would accept the offer or not accept it... Today I really want to return to Ukraine. And as soon as I and my family have this opportunity, we will finish all our questions on the documents, and we will return to Ukraine, no matter what the situation is.

That's the most important thing. And we are living. We woke up today, read the news that it was a hard day in Ukraine [the interview was recorded after the large-scale attack of russians on Kyiv on December 29, 2023, when 30 people died – Ed.]. Today, it's easier, but it's relatively easier even with the war in the country.

I would accept it, I would not accept it – you know, it will be an opportunity – I am always happy to return to Belarus and work in Belarus. But today I can't even go back and see my parents.

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