MADRID (AP) — After waking up at 5 a.m. to the news of their country being invaded and scrambling to find out if their relatives were safe back home, Ukraine’s national basketball team had to find the strength to play a World Cup qualifier in Spain on Thursday.
The game went on as scheduled despite the requests by some of the Ukrainian players to postpone it, and the mentally exhausted Ukrainian team lost 88-74.
“Today (was) a tough game for us,” Ukraine captain Artem Pustovyi said. “It’s really hard to play in this situation, with what we have now in our home. We tried to do our best. Nobody was thinking about the game. Everybody was thinking about our families, our wives and kids who are there. It’s a crazy day for us.”
Pustovyi said it was a “scary dream” to wake up to the news of what was happening back home.
“From five in the morning we don’t sleep because we received a lot of messages, we read a lot of news,” he said. “Nobody can believe that this happening in our country. But we are really sad because it is not a (expletive) dream. This is reality. How can you prepare yourself for the game? Our families stayed in Ukraine.”
Pustovyi also angrily berated Russian President Vladimir Putin in expletive-laden comments, calling his actions “crazy.”
He told other European nations to stick together because if Putin “is doing this (expletive) now in Ukraine, he will never stop, he will go to other countries.”
Ukraine coach Ainars Bagatskis, who is from Latvia, said it was “not so easy to talk about basketball … in this crazy situation.”
“There was no mental preparation from the team,” he said. “From 5 a.m. in the morning everybody was awake. I’m proud of the players.”
The Spanish fans — and the home team — loudly applauded the Ukrainian players before and after the game and Bagatskis thanked the crowd in the southern city of Córdoba for their support.
“For moments, I think the crowd was more on our side,” he said.
Despite calls to postpone the game, Bagatskis said playing was maybe “the best thing” they could have done in this situation.
“For the moment, (it’s the) only thing we can do for the country. No more, no less,” he said.
The return game against Spain in Kyiv that had been scheduled for this weekend was postponed.
Bagatskis declined to disclose where the team would stay in the coming days, saying: “I don’t want to tell.”
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