War and set pieces: watching Euro 2024 in Ukraine – a photo essay

In Odesa, a city attacked by Russian rockets, with daily power outages and air-raid sirens, street and social documentary photographer Richard Morgan explores to what extent the football is still important, if the game still has meaning, if the match really matters

This is not a story about how a football tournament is taking hold of a country’s imagination for one glorious, fleeting summer against a dark backdrop of war. It is not a tale of how Ukraine’s participation at Euro 24 is providing people with “some light relief from the harsh realities of war”, as the cliché goes. It is not My Summer with Des, Ukrainian-style.

For it is impossible to escape from the horrors of war in Ukraine, to find relief in the football, because the war is in the very experience of following the football here: it’s in the walk to the game past anti-tank defences, sandbags, covered monuments, and boarded up churches; it’s in the pre-match motivational messages from frontline fighters to the footballers; it’s in the air-raid warnings of rocket attacks flashing across the TV screen as you watch the game in the pub; it’s in the power-cuts before kick-off. Euro 24 is not a convenient distraction from war in Ukraine, but yet another way to live it.

Andriy shows off his new Ukrainian football tracksuit, a gift from his mother before the Euros. Behind him stands a row of Czech hedgehogs, the anti-tank defences that block main roads around Odesa’s central station and Kulykove Pole Square (above). A group of friends, excited about the tournament, play keepie-uppie on Holy Trinity Day in front of the bombed Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, a towering symbol of the war. The cathedral was badly damaged by a Russian rocket attack and now huge boards protect the windows from rocket blasts (below left). A football-styled car aerial sits above a damaged windshield on Derybasivska Street (below right).

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