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Former Arsenal defender Oleh Luzhnyi plans to join the fight in Ukraine, putting his coaching ambitions on hold to protect his homeland.
Luzhnyi, 53, spent four years at Arsenal between 1999 and 2003, making 110 appearances for the club during that period.
He was part of the Arsenal side that won the Premier League and FA Cup double in the 2001-02 season and would later win the Cup again in his last season at Highbury, before moving on for a short-lived spell at Wolves.
The former Dynamo Kyiv right-back also made 60 international appearances during his playing career, captaining Ukraine 37 times after previously representing the Soviet Union.
Luzhnyi moved into coaching after retirement in 2005 and has had two separate spells as assistant manager at Dynamo.
He had hoped to continue his coaching career in English football but is prepared to put those ambitions on hold to protect his country against Russia’s invasion.
“The situation is horrific,” Luzhnyi told Sky Sports News.
“I want to come to coach in the UK but before anything I will stand firmly and fight for my people, for my country and for democracy.
“We all hope this will be over soon as innocent lives are being lost and families are being torn apart.
“A country being invaded and destroyed is all for what? We need to stand together as one and bring to an end this criminal warfare.”
Since the start of the conflict, Luzhnyi has attempted to maintain contact with his friend, Simon Stakhiv, who lives in London.
The pair met in Lviv in the 1980s and revived their friendship in the UK after Luzhnyi joined Arsenal from Dynamo Kyiv.
“Oleh has told me that everybody is in shock and stressed by what is happening,” Stakhiv added.
“It is a scary thing to have to go to the bomb shelters and sleep overnight there. We are lucky here in England, today we had blue skies and peace but it's a different story when you are living with sirens and war.
“From six o'clock in the evening until eight o'clock in the morning nobody is allowed outside apart from the army.”
Former heavyweight boxing champions Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko have also vowed to join the fight against Russia, while current heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has also returned to Ukraine to help his homeland.
Luzhnyi is now preparing to become personally involved in the war and Stakhiv believes his friend can help to boost morale during a dark time for Ukraine.
“Everyone from the age of 18 to 60 can be called to fight, everyone is prepared to fight,” Stakhiv added.
“People love Oleh everywhere he goes. There are youngsters who weren't even born when he was playing who will stop him on the street to say 'hello' or have a picture with him.
“They respect him so much and he will be a source of strength to the people in the city throughout this when they see him.”
Stakhiv says Luzhnyi still speaks fondly of his time at Arsenal, where he became the first Ukrainian to win the Premier League.
“Of course, he still supports Arsenal. We talk every week about them and he would take great strength in knowing that Arsenal fans still remember him,” added Stakhiv.
“He still has ambitions to come to England. He is a legend, he captained our country, and I would love him to come back here when all this is over.”
Featured Image Credit: PA Images & Arsenal FC
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