Shakhtar Donetsk: The football club lost its home again. Now he is touring Europe, raising money for the victims of the war in Ukraine.

It was an uproar that the former international soccer star said immediately transported his “head and body” back to his native Croatia, where he was living as an eight-year-old when war broke out in what was then Yugoslavia.

So when his football club Shakhtar Donetsk was forced to leave Kyiv, the city that had been one of the team’s many temporary bases since 2014, at the start of the Russian invasion, the scenario was unfortunately all too familiar to Srna.

The former Croatian international is only 39 years old, but he has already experienced three wars in his life; first in Croatia in the early 1990s, then in 2014 in the Ukrainian Donbass – the real home of Shakhtar – and now in much of the rest of the country.

“It was not the most pleasant memory,” says Srna, the football director of Shakhtar Donetsk, about his childhood. “When I started to forget about it and enjoy life, I heard the sirens again.

“I’m strong. I want to be strong, but sometimes it’s hard because of everything, because you lost your home twice. At this point, it’s important to be positive, to be strong and to make a positive impression on everyone.”

Darijo Srna won the UEFA Cup with Shakhtar Donetsk in 2009.

Srna, who, along with the rest of his team, managed to escape from Ukraine the day after the start of the Russian invasion, found the strength to help those most affected by the war in Ukraine.

Shakhtar, where Srna is a club legend after 15 seasons of playing, has been homeless for nearly eight years since fighting broke out between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in 2014.

After retiring from professional football in 2019, Srna took up the position of assistant coach at Shakhtar and later became the club’s director of football.

He is well aware that his plight and the plight of the rest of the team is nothing compared to those who fight on the front lines, and helps the club to support Ukrainian soldiers and refugees.

Shakhtar are currently in the middle of their European Global Tour for Peace, during which they will play against several clubs to raise money for those stranded at war.

“We cannot compare ourselves to the people of Ukraine,” Srna told CNN Sport correspondent Don Riddell. “But we are a football team, we are football players, and we are trying to do what we know how to do, which is to play football.

Darijo Srna made 134 caps for Croatia and played in two World Cups.

“All the income that we receive from tickets and from sponsors for these games, we send to Ukraine for children, for people who are in a very difficult situation.

“Together with our [club] President Rinat Akhmetov, who still helps the citizens of Ukraine every day in various ways, medicines and everything else, we are now like one family, and we are trying to do our best to help the citizens of Ukraine today in this difficult situation. “

Before the opening match of the tour, after losing 1-0 to the Greek giants Olympiacos, Shakhtar players wore T-shirts with the names of the places in Ukraine most affected by the Russian attacks, including Mariupol and Irpen.

Since then, Shakhtar have played against the Turkish clubs Fenerbahce and Antalyaspor and the Polish club Lechia Gdansk, and on May 1 a match against the Croatian Hajduk Split is scheduled.

Earlier this month, against Gdansk, there was a particularly touching moment when Dmytro Keda, a 12-year-old Ukrainian refugee, came on as a last-minute substitute and scored the winning goal.

Keda, who fled his hometown of Mariupol in Ukraine after spending three weeks in hiding as Russian troops bombed the city, was surrounded by players from both teams and was lifted into the air in celebration.

Darijo Srna celebrating the victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League at the Donbass Arena in 2013.  The following year, Shakhtar were forced to leave their home.

Shakhtar head coach Roberto De Zerbi explained after the match that the decision to let Keda go on the field and score a goal was “spontaneous”.

So far, Shakhtar are reporting that the tour has raised 8.2 million Ukrainian hryvnias ($271,000), with about a quarter of that already transferred to the Akhmetov Foundation in Ukraine.

“When I asked the Ukrainian players: “Are you ready to play, for example, every second game, every third?” Srna recalls. “The more games [we play]the more money for Ukrainians.”

“They answered me: “Dario, we are Ukrainians. We can do everything”. And for me it was a moment that I will never forget.

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“But this is the Ukrainian people. I arrived 19 years ago and they accepted me as part of their family from day one and my family and I will never forget that. I lived more in Ukraine than in Croatia. home. Today I am Ukrainian and everything that we can do for them in these difficult times, we will do. Trust me.

“I am proud that I lived there, that I played there, that I met them, because they are people with a huge heart, always positive. They didn’t attack anyone. heroes today. I am so proud of them and myself personally, I will be with them until the end.

Srna explains that the war was especially difficult for the younger members of Shaktar’s band.

Among them is the former captain of the Mariupol club, who was invited to play with the team on their tour after he “lost everything” during the ongoing Russian bombing of the city.

“Firstly, it’s good that they are young,” says Srna. “They have a long career ahead of them and that can only make them stronger. I will say one thing: the most beautiful period for Croatia was 10 or 15 years after the war.

“I believe that Ukraine will be united to the end, and after the war we will be together. Let’s drink together, smile together, cry together. At that moment, the most important thing will be peace.”

The 2021/22 Ukrainian Premier League season was suspended on Tuesday due to the ongoing war. Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv finished first and second on February 24 and thus qualify for next season’s Champions League.