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Shakhtar owner pledges $25M to Ukrainian soldiers, families

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov pledged Monday to give $25 million to help the families of soldiers who defended the city of Mariupol when it was attacked by the Russian military.

Akhmetov announced the donation one day after Shakhtar completed a deal worth up to 100 million euros ($108 million) to sell winger Mykhailo Mudryk to Chelsea, although the Ukrainian club said the money pledged by Akhmetov did not come from the soccer transfer.

“The money will be used to cover different needs — from providing medical and prosthetic treatment and psychological support to meeting specific requests,” Akhmetov said in a statement published on Shakhtar’s website.

During the fall of Mariupol, the fighters who held out for months under relentless bombardment inside the Azovstal steel plant — which is owned by Akhmetov’s Metinvest — became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the early months of the invasion.

“Their acts of bravery are unparalleled in the modern history,” Akhmetov said launching the “Heart of Azovstal” project.

Since Akhmetov became club president in 1996, Shakhtar has been a mainstay in the Champions League, won the second-tier UEFA Cup in 2009 and developed the Donbas Arena that helped host the 2012 European Championship.

Shakhtar has been exiled from Donetsk since 2014 during a conflict with pro-Russian forces and then the war since last February. The showpiece stadium has been damaged but not destroyed, and the Ukrainian Premier League is now being played in Kyiv and the west of the country.

Akhmetov said he was confident Ukraine would win “the horrendous and unjust war” and then “we will play a friendly against Chelsea at Donbas Arena in a Ukrainian Donetsk.”

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