“This is a flag of my country. Blue in my view symbolises freedom, clear sky above the head. Yellow is a beautiful field, free, clean, clear, and I am proud, proud that I am Ukrainian.”
That pride is being expressed by 18-year-old Marko Podoliak. When the war in the Ukraine started earlier this year, the aspiring footballer from the Dynamo Kyiv academy made the unexpected move to Bracknell Town.
If you are unfamiliar with the club, ‘The Robins’ from Berkshire in England have just been crowned South-Central league champions, winning promotion to what would be the seventh tier of the English football pyramid.
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Podoliak made the move thanks to a family connection, fleeing the devastation of his home country and leaving his family behind.
“I was born and grew up in a city called Lviv,” Podoliak told Power of Sport. “Which is in the western part of Ukraine. It’s a very beautiful city, and rather old.”
“Nowadays, sometimes the Russian troops attack. Of course, I am worried for my parents and my family, the missiles may end up falling on any part of our country.
“It’s dangerous. Every day, we call each other. We’re always connected.”
Football in Ukraine was put on hold indefinitely following the start of the conflict and men of fighting age all over the country were conscripted.
Podoliak would likely have been among those going to battle, despite his lack of military training, but for the intervention of Bracknell, and in particular, chairman and CEO Kayne Steinborn-Busse.
“I've got three boys myself and my youngest is just turned 18,” said Steinborn-Busse. “In my eyes, he's still a child, he is still in education.
“There's no right age for someone to go to war, but a child, in my opinion, going to war is just something that I couldn't allow.
“That's why I moved heaven and earth to bring Marko into the country, because Marko’s father and his older brother have had to go to the territorial defence unit and they're not fighting men. They don’t have any military background.

“They were just a normal working-class family that were torn apart because of someone's desire to invade their country.”
Steinborn-Busse believes he and the club have a responsibility to Podoliak, and hope that through football, they can provide some positivity in his life amid the concerns over what is happening in his homeland.
“When you see him playing his football, you can see he kind of switches off. I can only imagine what goes through his mind every minute of every day.

“War brings about devastation, so he's got many more challenging weeks, months of mental challenges that he’s going to have to overcome. So, we've just got to make sure Marco's mental well-being is as good as it will be, and that's our job, is to make sure that he is well looked after.”

Bracknell Town Chairman and CEO Kayne Steinborn-Busse.

Image credit: Eurosport

Podoliak himself admits that football is a release from the stresses caused by the war, and despite everything, he is more determined than ever to fulfil his ambitions in the game.
“When I am playing football, I forget about everything, even the war,” he added. “Football plays a very important role in my life, I’ve been playing since my childhood.
“I’ve always loved it, I can’t do anything better than playing football, and it’s my dream to play at the highest level.”
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‘The Power of Sport’ is available to watch on Eurosport, discovery+ (selected markets) and Eurosport's digital platforms.
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