Despite the political tensions that are currently engulfing their two countries, Russia is set to face Ukraine on the rugby league field on Saturday, in the second match of 2014-5 European Championship B.
The visitors, after an arduous trip to flood-ravaged Serbia for the opening clash of the tournament last weekend, which took Ukraine 48-hours and saw them delayed for five hours on the Hungarian-Serb border, now make the 750km journey to Vereya, south of Moscow.
They will face a strong Russian squad, which sees the inclusion of seven Lokomotiv Moscow players alongside the usual Vereya core, which is eight strong but without stalwart Aleksandr Lysokon, their creative stand-off, who is injured.
Scrum-half Eduard Ososkov has been freed up to assume a purely play-making role, having been replaced as national team coach by former Wests Tigers trialist Igor Ovchinnikov.
His preparations as the tournament progresses will step up, with Moscow and Moscow Region both playing matches against the visiting English Lionhearts in June, but prior to the Ukraine match the Bears’ preparations have been truncated.
“We have only had one training session together,” said the experienced coach, who was in charge of the national team five years ago. “That is why we are going to have to make adjustments during the match. The Ukrainian team is well trained and very well prepared physically. I think their 40-hour journey to Serbia certainly didn’t help them to play as well as they can. We are taking this match very seriously”.
Ukraine coach Gennady Vepryk is without Donetsk trio Mykhaylo Chernyak, Volodymyr Mazepa and Danylo Pozhidaev, all of whom played in Nis last Saturday, while Igor Shevtsov, Kostiantyn Butov and Bogdan Vepryk are called up and debutant Kostiantyn Butov completes the squad.
“Some of our leading players are missing but we are reinforced with Soshenko and Vepryk both of whom have recovered from injuries,” said the coach. “Igor Shevtsov, our veteran, will also play and lift the team. We hope that the journey and especially passing through the border will not be as hard as it was before the game with Serbia.”
RUSSIA 20-MAN SQUAD
Artem Grigoryan, Kirill Kosharin, Mikhail Nisiforov, Roman Ovchinnikov, Nikolay Zagoskin, Andrey Zdobnikov, Ruslan Izmaylov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitriy Bratko, Igor Chuprin, Vadim Fedchuk, Konstantin Roschin (Moscow Storm), Grigory Esin (Saint Petersburg), Rustam Bulanov, Anatoly Grigorev, Sergey Konstantinov, Alexey Nikolaev, Eduard Ososkov, Maxim Suchkov, Vladimir Vlasyuk, Mikhail Burlutskiy (Vereya)
UKRAINE 17-MAN SQUAD
ergiy Soshchenko, Igor Urkin (Donetsk Titans), Kostiantyn Butov (Krivbas, Krivoi Rog), Andrii Bashevskyi, Vitalii Felko, Mykola Getmanov, Pavlo Kardakov, Volodomyr Karpenko, Sergii Kravchenko, Artur Martyrosyan, Volodymyr Mashkin, Maksym Miroshnichenko, Oleksandr Kozak, Oleksandr Skorbach, Mykhailo Troyan, Bogdan Vepryk (Legion XIII, Kharkiv), Igor Shevtsov (Storm, Kharkov)