Ukrainian handball champions are preparing for the new season in the German second division

It is home away from home for Ukrainian handball champions HC Motor Zaporizhzhia, who find refuge in Dusseldorf, which now competes in the second tier of Germany.

When it became clear that the Ukrainian handball top league would not be able to resume, they reached an agreement with the second division of the handball Bundesliga to play as the visiting team for next season.

The arrangement gives players a sense of normality, as best it can.

“Obviously, the boys are always in contact with their families, they know what is happening in the country and they are worried about it,” says Lithuanian Gintaras Savukynas, coach from Zaporizhzhia.

Zaporizhzhia are reigning champions of Ukraine for nine consecutive years. But the city has become a household name as Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is prone to fighting between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers, sparking fears of a catastrophe across the continent.

“For me, sport helps right now because you focus on your practice,” says Oleksandr Kasai, a player from Zaporizhzhia.

“Sometimes your mind relaxes, some days. But, unfortunately, we have situations where you can’t (not) think about your home.”

Zaporizhzhia opened their season against Bayer Dormagen on Wednesday in their foster home, with free admission for all Ukrainian refugees.