Euro 2024: Ukraine's Zabarnyi grateful for 'warriors' at home

MUNICH, Germany -- Ukraine defender Illia Zabarnyi said he is grateful to the "warriors" defending his country for giving him the opportunity to play in Monday's Euro 2024 opener against Romania at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Ukraine's presence in Germany is their first involvement in a major tournament since Russia's ongoing invasion began in 2022.

Bournemouth's Zabarnyi suggested Ukraine would not even be at the finals if not for those fighting for the country's future back home and pledged to give everything on the pitch in gratitude for their efforts.

"I went through many things in both football and my life since the last Euros," Zabarnyi said, having been just 18 at Euro 2020 (which was played in 2021 due to the pandemic).

"I think the fact I am here now, it's down to our warriors who defend our country. They are incredible people who with bravery win everything. I am so grateful to them.

"The major difference with the previous Euros is that, because there is war in our country and it's very difficult when you wake up and you think what happens to your friends at home.

"Of course it can pressurise everyone, but it adds great motivation to come on to the pitch and to do everything possible.

"For us, it's a very emotional moment when you see Ukraine flags in the stadium... It's just when you are just checking news, what's going on at home, it's difficult to put it into words [the feeling].

"I just want to say thanks to everyone who supports us. It's important, not only for football in Ukraine, but all our lives, because every day our country wakes up to alarms and it's difficult.

"Children, women, civilians... a lot of people die every day. I think it needs to stop and of course it will be an emotional moment before kick off."

Ukraine have wanted to use the tournament to highlight their continued need for international support. This week, 13 players produced a video presenting images of wartime destruction and hardship in their home towns 27 months into Russia's full-scale invasion.

Coach Sergiy Rebrov reiterated the importance of Ukraine using Euro 2024 as a platform and to display the spirit of the country.

"Of course it's very emotional," he said in a news conference. "I think it's very good and very important for Ukraine to be in this forum. All Ukrainians want to be a European nation and it is important for Ukraine to be represented in the Euros.

"Football is not in first place right now, of course. Lots of people are dead, kids are dead and all the players when we start to play it is with great gratitude to our soldiers and our supporters because now is a very difficult time for Ukraine.

"In each interview, I remind that we are grateful to Europe, there has been so much support, but I want to remind that our war continues and we need support.

"I am personally getting lots of messages from fighters, soldiers, friends fighting for Ukraine, for Freedom of Ukraine. They are proud of us; we are proud of them, they are saying we are here to show the spirit of Ukraine. This tournament is really about the spirt of our country."

Slovakia and Belgium complete Group E alongside Ukraine and Romania, with Rebrov's side tipped to do well due to the presence of players from some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Real Madrid's Andriy Lunin, Arsenal's Oleksandr Zinchenko, Chelsea's Mykhailo Mudryk and Girona duo Viktor Tsygankov and Artem Dovbyk, the latter of whom was the top scorer in LaLiga this season, are all expected to start on Monday, but Rebrov warned it will not be easy.

"There are no weak teams at the Euros," he added. "People say Romania are not a strong team but they performed very well in their qualifying group. They were unbeaten across 10 games and have had success due to their discipline and team effort.

"I don't know why everyone says we are one favourites. All teams are strong and deserve to be here. We respect Romania but also have to think about ourselves and concentrate on each match as it comes around."

After Romania, Ukraine face Slovakia on June 21 in Dusseldorf and then close the group against Belgium on June 26 in Stuttgart.