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Spain’s most popular newspaper supports Ukrainian footballer Zozulya: A lesson in patriotism

Roman Zozulya in tryzub T-shirt
The most popular and authoritative social and political newspaper in Spain – El Pais – has voiced its support of Ukrainian forward Roman Zozulya in his conflict with Rayo Vallecano fans.

In particular, El Pais notes that Zozulya has never used Nazi symbols, but on the contrary, has demonstrated patriotic sentiment and is fully committed to the idea that military action is needed to return the Donbas to Ukraine.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that Zozulya used Nazi symbols… and neither did he make racist or anti-Semitic statements. In contrast, we all remember how Paolo Di Canio greeted fans with an open fascist salute.”

According to El Pais, the Russian media is trying to link Ukrainian nationalism to Nazi ideology, tying it to some Ukrainian volunteer units fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

“Channel Russia Today claimed that neo-Nazi ideology is rampant in Ukraine, especially among volunteers who are fighting against pro-Russian militants. But, Ukrainian right-wing political parties got no more than 6% of the votes in recent elections. That’s a lower figure than for other political formations in EU member states, which profess a similar ideology.”


Last week, a small group of supporters of Rayo Vallecano took to the stands to protest the arrival on loan of Ukrainian player Roman Zozulya over alleged neo-Nazi links.

But, Zozulya defended himself. In a letter to the club’s fans, he explained he had been the victim of a misunderstanding on arrival in Spain when a journalist mistook the tryzub on his shirt (national coat of arms of Ukraine) for the symbol of a neo-Nazi paramilitary group.

The article was subsequently pulled by the paper in question, Zozulya said, adding that he had been helping the Ukrainian army to defend his country, as well as children and the disadvantaged “during a tremendously difficult time of war in Ukraine”.

Zozulya delivering aid to the front
Zozulya delivering aid to the front
Roman Zozulya promotes his charitable fund People’s Army – Together We Help Ukraine!

In early 2016, Roman Zozulya sold his UEFA Europa League medal for 210,000 hryvnias (about €7,500 at that time), and donated the money to help the Ukrainian army. In addition, Zozulya has set up a charitable foundation called People’s Army, delivered aid to Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines and visited the wounded in military hospitals.

Zozulya also pointed out that he was called a fascist because he supports the Ukrainian army that is fighting Russian proxies in Eastern Ukraine. Radical Madrid fans, he says, openly back the separatists in the Donbas.

Zozulya lasted just one training session with the Madrid team before the pressure became too great and it was announced he would return to Seville’s Real Betis club.

Previously, Betis players publicly stood by Zozulya after the scandal surrounding his failed transfer to Rayo Vallecano. Real Betis published an official statement in support of Zozulya. Players and coach Victor Sanchez appeared at a news conference to condemn the “public lynching of a player whose professional and personal behaviour has been impeccable since he arrived.”

Team captain Joaquin Sanchez read a statement expressing the players’ “indignation with the extremely serious situation.” He finished by saying that “We are all Zozulya”.

Betis players publicly voice their support for Roman Zozulya
Betis players publicly voice their support for Roman Zozulya

The Ambassador of Ukraine to Spain Anatoliy Shcherba has promised that the Embassy of Ukraine will support the Ukrainian striker, calling the actions of Rayo fans propaganda as part of the hybrid war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian defender of Valencia CF B Ivan Zotko said that the Spanish media has published a lot of negative articles about Zozulya because everyone seems to think that he is taking an active part in the fighting in Ukraine.

Rayo Vallecano, whose radical fans disrupted Roman Zozulya’s transfer, and leaders of the Spanish League (La Liga) and the Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) now insist that Zozulya can still play for the Madrid club.

According to regulations, players may be registered with a maximum of three clubs during one season, and apparently Zozulya has reached this limit. Real Betis stated that in this case Zozulya can return and train with the team.

The Football Federation of Ukraine has submitted a request to the International and Spanish Federations asking them to intervene in the current situation so that Zozulya will be able to play again this season. The Embassy of Ukraine in Spain has also submitted such a request. Ukrainian diplomats have asked the Spanish Football Federation to make an exception in Zozulya’s case and allow him to play for Sevilla’s Real Betis.


On February 8, 2017, Kharkiv Metalist ultras posted in Facebook that several Rayo Vallecano fans had fought on the side of “DNR/LNR” troops in Eastern Ukraine.

“We have reliable information that roughly ten ultras from Rayo Vallecano fought on the side of these terrorists in Eastern Ukraine. They quietly returned to Spain, were detained by the police and fined a ridiculously small amount due to lack of evidence.”

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