Jubilant Ukrainians said they expected their team to beat Wales on Sunday and to go to the World Cup in Qatar after their “impressive” 3-1 victory over Scotland at Hampden Park.
Bars and restaurants in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were unable to show the match because of a wartime curfew. Instead fans watched at home, as well as from bomb shelters and trenches.
After the final whistle Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, sent a message of congratulations to the team. “There are times when you don’t need a lot of words! Just pride! Just thank you guys! Two hours of happiness to which we are not accustomed.”
Posting on his official Telegram channel, which has 1.2m followers, Zelenskiy said the victory had brought joy to “our military and to our whole country”. “We are all fighting, each on his own front for this. We fight, we endure, we win. Because we are Ukrainians!”
On Thursday the mood in Kyiv was upbeat, as the city digested the result amid summer sunshine.
“We want to show the world that Ukraine is strong everywhere, including in football,” Vasily Volodymyrovich said, standing guard with a Kalashnikov in the capital. “We have a very strong collective. And we have a great spirit. It was an impressive group victory.”
Vasily – a 28-year-old member of Ukraine’s national guard – said he thought three players were outstanding: Andriy Yarmolenko, who scored the first goal, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ruslan Malinovskyi. All played for leading European clubs and had huge experience, he said.
“It was great entertainment – I always thought Ukraine would win,” Oksana, a 24-year-old receptionist, said. She described Artem Dovbyk’s cool stoppage time finish for Ukraine’s third goal as “amazing”, adding: “Of course we will beat Wales.”
Journalists picked up on the banners shown by the Ukraine fans who came to Glasgow. Many were already living and working abroad. Since Russia’s invasion on 24 February men aged 18-60 have been forbidden from leaving the country, unless for exceptional reasons.
Before kick-off the crowd chanted the slogan “Armed Forces of Ukraine”. They waved banners saying “Kherson is Ukraine”, a reference to the southern region or oblast seized and occupied by Russia, and “Glory to Ukraine”, the official military greeting used by Zelenskiy in his video addresses.
Olga Tokariuk, a prominent independent journalist, said Ukraine’s “well-deserved victory means a lot”. “It’s a morale boost, it’s a source of joy in dark times,” she tweeted, together with video clips of Ukraine’s goals.
She added: “Solders watched it in the trenches, millions of Ukrainians watched it in the bomb shelters while Russian missiles were striking Lviv.”
At least five people were injured in rocket attacks on Wednesday in the Stryi district of the Lviv region. Air-raid sirens could be heard across Kyiv shortly before the Ukraine players came on to the pitch for an emotional rendition of the national anthem.