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Ukraine fails to qualify for the World Cup

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now to Ukraine, where a few dozen hardcore fans got together to watch their national team play against Wales. Wales won one to nothing, and Ukraine's long-shot bid to play in this year's World Cup ended. NPR's Peter Granitz reports from Kyiv.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Fans gather inside the bar because martial law prohibits large crowds from gathering outside. So instead of going to the fan zone that would normally be set up outside the stadium, they go to the sports bar across the street. And the night began with some measured optimism.

MYHALIO TSYRUK: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: Myhalio Tsyruk says he thinks Ukraine can actually pull it off. Instead of sporting the national jersey, he wears a T-shirt with a message. He switches to English to read what it says.

TSYRUK: I only support two teams - Ukraine and whoever is playing against Russia. The fans stand for the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: "Glory to Ukraine," they shout. "Glory to the heroes." The game begins, and for a good chunk of the first half, there is a sense of hope. Ukraine scores a goal and a free kick...

(CHEERING)

GRANITZ: ...Only to have it called back by the ref. Wales scored the game's only lasting goal when a kick from Gareth Bale nicked a Ukrainian player and went straight past Ukraine's goalkeeper.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND SLAMMING ON BAR)

GRANITZ: At halftime, fans tried to keep upbeat.

MAXIM MOHAMMADI: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: Maxim Mohammadi says, "Ukraine believes in victory." Ukraine did have its shots - one missed header...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

GRANITZ: ...After another.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Run.

GRANITZ: With about 10 minutes left in the game, the mood in the bar turned sour. Standing in line for the bathroom, Serhiy Ivanshenko explained why Ukraine trailed.

SERHIY IVANSHENKO: Arbiter is not on our side. He is on the Wales side.

GRANITZ: Arbiter - the refs. When the final whistle blows, the fans applaud their team.

(APPLAUSE)

GRANITZ: Then they cheer.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

GRANITZ: Katya Barchyk says this game, even this loss was an escape.

KATYA BARCHYK: (Non-English language spoken).

GRANITZ: "This morning, I woke up to Russian missiles exploding in my city," she says. "But I'm grateful that I had these two hours to distract me from the danger."

Peter Granitz, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNCOMMENN'S "ROOTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Granitz

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