Oleg Luzhny: ‘World needs to support Ukraine in Russia conflict’

Story highlights

Oleg Luzhny played international football for Ukraine

He says people in Ukraine are "scared" and "nervous"

The 45-year-old accuses Russia and President Putin of being aggressive

Former Arsenal defender says whole world must unite behind Ukraine

CNN  — 

Amid the rumblings of war between Russia and Ukraine, just how do you go about your everyday life?

With foreboding and fear, according to former Ukraine football international Oleg Luzhny.

“Everyone is scared about war – they are very nervous,” Luzhny, who enjoyed a successful spell in the English Premier League with Arsenal, told CNN.

More than once during our interview, Luzhny seemed desperate to deliver this message: “It is important the whole world supports us.”

He was speaking from his mother’s home in Kiev, Ukraine, on Monday, after flying there from London, where he lives with his wife and children.

He wanted to visit following the events of the past few weeks.

Luzhny, who was born in in the western city of Lviv, last held a managerial job with Tavriya Simferopol – a club based in Crimea, an autonomous region of eastern Ukraine with strong loyalty to Russia.

“Here in Kiev, it’s OK but in Crimea and places like Donetsk and elsewhere, people are worried. Where there is a large population of Russians, they are scared,” he said.

“Everyone is scared about war. They are very nervous. It’s scary for the children, for the adults, for everyone.

“I hope the world can see what is going on and will speak out.”

Read: Ukraine crisis – What’s happening?

What he has witnessed on his television screen, and heard while speaking to his friends, has ignited a passion for his country’s right to self-determination.

Ukraine has been in chaos since President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted on February 22 following bloody street protests which left many dead and hundreds injured.

A deepening split within Ukraine society has seen those in the western part of the country supporting the interim government and ties with the European Union, while those in the east advocate a Russian presence in Ukraine.

Crimea, where Russia has sent more troops, remains firmly opposed to the new political leadership in Kiev.

Ukraine suspects Russia of fomenting tension in the autonomous region and fears it might escalate into a bid for separation by its Russian majority population.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the country’s interim prime minister, accused Moscow of declaring war and insisted his West-leaning government would not give up the Crimean region.

But as words are traded by politicians around tables and via television screens, among the people, trepidation over Ukraine’s future only grows.

“Russia is aggressive against many countries not just Ukraine,” said Luzhny, who admitted he did not understand Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tactics.

“They went into Georgia in 2008 and now they have gone into Ukraine,” added Luzhny, referring to the five-day conflict between Georgia and Russia.

“I don’t understand what he is doing or what he wants to gain from doing this.

“Nobody understands why he is doing this, for what?

“He says that it’s to defend Russian people, but the Russian people in Ukraine that I know are saying, ‘We are OK’ – they don’t need any help.”

Read: Putin’s Ukrainian endgame

Moscow has defended its parliament’s approval to use military force to protect its citizens in the Crimean Peninsula.

In the U.S., a senior White House official told CNN on Sunday that Russian forces “have complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula.” The official said the U.S. estimates there are 6,000 Russian ground and naval forces in the region.

“There is no question that they are in an occupation position – flying in reinforcements and settling in,” another senior administration official said.

The move by Russia has been met with fear and anger in Ukraine while it has also been condemned by world leaders.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Russian Federation to “refrain from any acts and rhetoric that can further escalate the situation and instead engage constructively and through peaceful means with Ukraine.”

Luzhny, who was part of the famous Dynamo Kiev team of the 1990s which included Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov, says he enjoyed his time working in Crimea before leaving in June last year.

He still has friends in the region and while they are all OK, he says that the rise in tensions within Ukraine is unimaginable.

“When I was growing up I never thought this would happen. Nobody would have thought this situation would happen,” he said.

“Everybody is surprised because nobody thought for a second that Putin would go into Ukraine.

“Everyone is shocked. Ask anybody if they expected this to happen and they would have said you were crazy and that it would be impossible.”

Read: Putin planning ‘Soviet Union lite’

In Kiev, Luzhny says life is returning to normal following the protests which raged for several days.

He is at a loss to understand the decision to move Ukraine’s international friendly game with the United States to Cyprus on March 5.

It was originally scheduled for the eastern city of Kharkiv, but Luzhny believes it could still have been played on home soil – even though the domestic championship has been suspended.

“There is no more trouble in Kiev, it is absolutely fine,” he said.

That cannot be said for Crimea and Donetsk, where tension continues to rise as the world waits to see how this situation plays out.

“I don’t know what is going to happen next,” said Luzhny.

“I think we will see something happen in the next few days because the whole world is watching Putin.

“It is so important that the world sees what is going on.

“We need their support,” adds Luzhny in one last plaintive refrain.

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