One of Dundee United’s key staff members is preparing for a third trip to war-torn Ukraine in a bid to help those impacted by the Russian invasion.
Ricardo Cerdan, who is United’s international business manager, will spend 10 days in the country and wants to assist those living at the Ukraine-Russia border.
The 45-year-old is travelling to Odessa as he goes deeper into the country after two initial trips to the war zone.
“What the war started, I started seeing what was happening and the amount of refugees that were fleeing so I decided to go for a couple of days at first,” he said.
“I saw the atrocities that were happening so I decided to go for a further seven days and now I’m going to go for a further 10 days, deeper into Ukraine this time and we’re going to Odessa which is a part that is close to the bombings from the Russian side.
“If I was scared I wouldn’t have gone. I’m cautious about everything happening there, when you are in your hotel and the sirens go at night time because the jets are flying over and the receptionist is calling your door saying you have to go down to the bunker.
“You’re thinking ‘this is the real thing’ it’s not a movie, it’s happening and it’s happening five or six hours away from here in Scotland.”
Cerdan is travelling to Ukraine in a minibus that he has been able to buy through fundraising at Dundee United and beyond.
“Straight away we started fundraising at the club and we’ve raised over £26,000.
“All the money has helped and has gone to helping those in need to buy food. A lot of people don’t want to leave Ukraine, they still want to be in their country and don’t want to go but they left their houses with nothing.
“I will also be helping people to flee Odessa toward the Moldova border, which is the closest one.”
‘Football stadiums are now shelters’
Cerdan is not interested in being dragged into the politics of the conflict in Ukraine, insisting he is travelling simply to help the children and young people caught up in the conflict.
“I wasn’t expecting to see 18 or 19-year-old kids holding an AK-47 asking you for your passport because you are taking some pictures in the train station in Lviv,” he said.
“Then a little boy, who could be my son, is holding an AK-47 trying to speak with his broken English asking what I’m doing and to show my camera and what pictures I have taken.
“Seeing the bunkers on the middle of a football pitch is unbelievable. The football stadiums in Ukraine have become the biggest shelters.
“I went to Shakhtar Donetsk stadium in Lviv and there are 2000 beds there, there is no football.
“You see the kids still playing football in the park then you hear a siren and the kids start running away to get to their nearest bunker.
“All that little boy wants to do is play football, wants to be the next footballer at Shakhtar Donetsk or Dinamo Kyiv and he’s running to a bunker.
“I don’t want to get into the political side, it’s those little kids I’m doing it for.”
Cerdan has been paying for much of the aid out of his own pocket – but his Dundee United colleagues started a fundraising campaign, United With Ukraine, to support his efforts in helping Ukrainians whose lives have been so dramatically decimated by Russian violence.