Georgi Sudakov: Air strikes & explosions, the reality of war for one of Ukraine’s top prospects


Georgi Sudakov played every minute of Shakhtar’s Champions League campaign this term

Georgi Sudakov is as mature and pragmatic as he is talented. You grow up quickly as a young father when your country is at war.

Saturday marks two years since Russian tanks and troops crossed Ukrainian borders and for 21-year-old Sudakov, one of Ukraine’s most promising footballers, the threat remains real.

When the war began, Sudakov and his wife were expecting their first child, yet they were forced to hide away in a makeshift bomb shelter during air strikes on Kyiv.

Their daughter, Milana, is now approaching her second birthday but still the attacks continue.

“The situation is difficult,” Sudakov tells BBC Sport. “Frequent strikes and sounds of sirens. There was an explosion near our house in Kyiv recently.”

Sudakov is often on the road with Shakhtar Donetsk but there is no escaping the conflict for him and his team-mates. The club’s under-19s goalkeeper Volodymyr Seheda even put his career on hold to join the Ukrainian army.

“It’s psychologically hard when your family is far away and the first thing you see in the morning after waking up is a text from your wife saying that she and your child are hiding in the bathroom,” adds the midfielder.

He speaks frequently with friends and family about what is happening. “It is not a situation that you can forget about or move away from,” he says. “You follow the news or discuss it with your team-mates.

“It’s hard, but I have the opportunity to get a small distraction through my profession.

“When I’m on the pitch, I have two hours where I can forget about all my problems for a while and focus on football. It is on the pitch that I feel most comfortable.”

Amid the backdrop of war and the pressure of a burgeoning football career, the most significant change to Sudakov’s world has been becoming a father.

“The emotions and experiences cannot be expressed in words,” he explains. “They are special and unique. Nothing in football or beyond can compare to it. Our little miracle brings us joy and emotion every day. Now there is a new meaning to our life – our child.

“Everything I do now is primarily for my family. It is a very strong motivation and source of support.”

On the field, however, Sudakov is turning heads and winning plaudits.

Bids came in for the midfielder in January, with Napoli seeing an offer worth 40m euros (£34.24m) turned down. Sudakov instead renewed his contract, with Shakhtar reportedly adding a 150m euro release clause.

“There were offers from Juventus and Napoli,” explains Sudakov. “Other clubs also showed interest, but only these two teams made specific proposals.”

Sudakov has done his due diligence on other leagues, seeking advice from Chelsea forward Mykhailo Mudryk, a good friend, as well as confiding in Arsenal defender Oleksandr Zincheko, Genoa midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi and Benfica goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin.

“They all say that the level of football in their leagues is completely different,” he explains, stressing he remains “very happy” at Shakhtar.

“Speed, pace, quality of play and level of thinking are all superior. It is impossible to compare the Ukrainian championship with their leagues.

“If you want to progress as a footballer, then you need to move to the one of the top five leagues. At the same time, Shakhtar are forming a very strong team striving not only to play in European competitions but also to achieve positive results.”

According to his former youth team coach Fernando Valente, Sudakov could play for Liverpool, Barcelona or Manchester City, though his first football kit was a Manchester United one with Cristiano Ronaldo on the back and his “hero” was Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.

“I feel comfortable with the ball and prefer to play attacking football,” he says, leaving any comparisons for others to make.

“I don’t really like playing with a lot of challenges and without the ball, but I understand that this is an integral part of football and I’m ready to develop those aspects of my game at the right time.”

‘We feel responsibility and pride’

Sudakov Shakthar

Sudakov has been attracting interest from some of Europe’s top clubs

Sudakov played a key role as Shakhtar won the Ukrainian title last season, which was completed behind closed doors after the previous campaign was cancelled.

He also played every minute of Shakhtar’s Champions League campaign this term, scoring against Barcelona, when they finished third in the group after beating the Catalan giants in Hamburg – their current base for European games.

The Miners, who played in Poland last year, may currently call the Volksparkstadion their continental ‘home’, but getting to Germany is often easier for opponents. With Ukraine’s airports closed, the team spend many hours travelling by bus and at border crossings.

However, a 5-3 aggregate defeat by Marseille in the Europa League play-offs on Thursday, despite Sudakov scoring a penalty, brought their European ambitions to an end for this season.

Sudakov for Ukraine versus England
Sudakov started both Ukraine’s Euro qualification games against England

On the international stage, though, Sudakov and his team-mates face an exciting summer. Ukraine will compete in Paris after qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time.

“It is a special moment,” he says. “I am proud to have the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympics, and equally proud that we qualified through my and the team’s efforts.

“It’s a big responsibility and we’re looking forward to the event.”

They are also still in the running for a place at Euro 2024, with qualification play-offs in March.

Sudakov was part of the squad at Euro 2020, calling it an “unforgettable experience”, and has been a regular this time around, featuring twice against England during qualification.

There is added motivation now, with the Ukraine squad often receiving messages from soldiers who say watching games is a welcome relief from the war for them.

“Indeed, in every game for the national team we are representing our nation,” he says. “Currently, when the situation in the country is very difficult, all footballers are aware of this.

“When we play for the national team, we feel responsibility and pride, we want to please the people who support us.”

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