Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko didn’t think twice when he learned that President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted him to become the first ambassador of UNITED24, a platform dedicated to collecting charitable funds in support of Ukraine.
He was ready to accept new responsibilities on the spot.
“I said yes because I knew I had to do something for my country,” Shevchenko told the Kyiv Independent.
The soft-spoken, football player took a moment to reflect on his comment. As for many, the war is a personal matter for Shevchenko.
His family was stranded in Kyiv when the war erupted and he said the images of Bucha and Hostomel, where unimaginable atrocities have been committed by Russia, haunt him. “I had heard a couple of things, but I was absolutely shocked,” Shevchenko said.
There was no other choice for him than to help Ukraine get back on its feet. A 2004 Ballon d’Or winner, his international career has given him a platform through which he can help his country as much as possible, he said.
A Ukrainian football star recognized worldwide, Shevchenko scored 48 goals in 111 games as a striker for Ukraine, making him the country’s greatest ever goalscorer.
He has played for Dynamo Kyiv, Milan, Chelsea, and Ukraine’s national team, helping put Ukraine on the map.
“Some athletes took weapons and went on the battlefield,” he said. “My weapons are my international connections.”
Shevchenko feels that he owes it to Ukraine to use his international stature to increase donations, ensure the efficiency and transparency of their distribution, and ultimately contribute to his country's survival.
“A lot of money was given to Ukraine, but not all the money arrived here, and we don’t know where it disappeared,” he said. “This platform will help us know where it’s going because donators need to see where their money is going.”
That’s why he accepted to become the face of United24, a global initiative launched by Zelensky on May 5 to support Ukraine.
According to Shevchenko, the first step is to remind international donors that the war is ongoing. After three months of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, and the inestimable atrocities that have accompanied it, fighting "war fatigue" is crucial.
“We have to remind people that this country is at war, and we need to survive,” he said.
UNITED24 will raise funds for the defense and demining of Ukraine, including through the purchase of weapons, protective gear, and military, rescue, and demining equipment, according to the initiative’s press release.
Donations will also go toward medical aid for Ukraine, by providing the country with medications, medical equipment, and transport, and the rehabilitation of healthcare facilities damaged or destroyed by hostilities.
The project's third component is dedicated to rebuilding Ukraine, such as through the restoration of critical infrastructure.
All donations will be transferred to the accounts of the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) and assigned to the ministries of defense, health, and infrastructure.
In the first week following the initiative's launch, over $25 million was transferred to NBU accounts. The UNITED24 website received 220,000 visits a day after being launched.
This help is critical for the survival of Ukraine, Shevchenko said
"This is my contribution to my country because I want my country to have enough funds to survive and to defend itself," he added.
"Our economy is not working, how can you do anything when Russian soldiers are bombing our cities, are mining our fields?" he asked.
But he is also aware that this process is going to be a long one.
"To bring peace to our country, we need to win this war, we need to get rid of Russian soldiers on our land, and people have to come back," Shevchenko said.
Shevchenko also believes that Ukraine’s younger generations can make a big difference and that, with a united youth, Ukraine can strive toward the European values for which it was attacked by Russia.
“We are united because we are free people,” he said.