Belarusian football fans holding a giant banner that says: "Stay Strong, Brothers!" during the match of Ukraine and Belarus national teams on September 5, 2015, in Lviv, Ukraine (Image: social media)
Few events are more likely to divide people along national or ethnic lines than international football matches, and that makes what happened in Lviv yesterday utterly remarkable and especially important: In a display of unity against a common Russian threat, Ukrainian and Belarusian fans marched under a banner “for your freedom and ours.”
Prior to the match, fans of both national teams marched from the center of the western Ukrainian city to the arena where the competition took place. They sang anti-Putin songs and carried banners declaring “a brotherhood of conscience” as well as their commitment of mutual support.
Earlier in the morning, fans from the two countries gave blood for wounded Ukrainian soldiers. Grani.ru reported that “the Belarusian fans called their action, “’We are united with you by common blood’” and said that they wanted to demonstrate their support for Ukraine’s struggle to maintain its independence and territorial integrity.
The march and the game itself were orderly and no arrests were reported. Ukraine won by a score of three to one, and its victory was greeted by President Petro Poroshenko who thanked the fans of both teams “for the unbelievably warm and friendly atmosphere at the stadium. Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Belarus!”
The last time the two teams met, in the Belarusian city of Borisov in October 2014, the fans behaved in much the same way, expressing mutual support and opposition to Russian aggression; but the Belarusian authorities behaved very differently. They arrested approximately 100 Ukrainian fans and 30 Belarusian ones, the latter because they wore Ukrainian symbols and displayed the white-red-white Belarusian flag Alyaksandr Lukashenka has dispensed with.