Vitalii Mykolenko says football is providing an invaluable haven from the ongoing conflict in the Everton player’s home country of Ukraine.
Left-back Mykolenko moved to Goodison Park at the beginning of 2022, one month before the Russian invasion of his homeland.
The player is in daily contact with family in Kyiv and constantly following news reports from Ukraine.
Mykolenko is readying himself for a first meeting with former club Dynamo Kyiv in Friday’s Match For Peace at Goodison Park.
The charity fundraiser will directly support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, following the Russian invasion earlier this year.
Talking to Everton’s matchday programme for the fixture, he admitted to experiencing butterflies ahead of the encounter.
Mykolenko, however, has conclusively proved his capacity to compartmentalise different elements of everyday life.
He set aside unimaginably difficult personal circumstances to claim a starting spot in manager Frank Lampard’s team in the closing months of last season – Mykolenko playing 10 straight games and gaining significant popularity with his Club’s supporters following a succession of purposeful and resilient displays.
“I am okay, my family is okay, they are still in Kyiv,” said Mykolenko.
“And I hope they will be okay for the future. I speak with them every day and everything is good.
“The first months, from the start of the war, were difficult for everyone, the people of Ukraine.
“Now I feel good, but I am always watching and reading the news.
“There are lots of bombs and rockets in Ukraine.
“It is really scary for me.
“That half year [after coming to England] was probably the hardest in my life, it was tough for both the Club and for me personally.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but when I was on the pitch – either training or playing – I was completely in the game.
“That was the place where I would forget about everything and focus on football. I was trying to help the team and the team were helping me, morally.”
Mykolenko was a star graduate of Dynamo Kyiv’s academy, claiming the honour of Golden talent of Ukraine – awarded to the country’s best under-21 player – in 2019 and 2020, and winning a domestic league title with his club in 2020/21.
He made 132 appearances for Dynamo following a debut at the age of 18 in August 2017.
The defender has 26 caps for his country and was part of Ukraine’s heartening return to international action last month.
Dynamo Kyiv began the process of resuming club football with a sequence of friendly fixtures in Europe, in addition to contesting a two-legged Champions League play-off with Fenerbahce this month.
And besides raising funds for the humanitarian effort in Ukraine, Dynamo’s visit to Goodison – and the team’s sustained prominence – is a significant tool, in the view of Mykolenko, for maintaining public awareness over the country’s plight.
“I had support from day one and say thank you so much for that support from all my teammates and all the coaches,” he says.
“Even now, when everything has gone quieter… there is not so much media coverage in the UK, every day some of my teammates and coaches ask me how are things at home, how are things in Ukraine?
“I am very grateful and want to say I am going to fight for this club, because I am well respected and trusted here.
“I also respect everybody at Everton.
“It is very important for Ukrainian clubs to play these matches and I am very grateful and very happy that I have an opportunity to play for my club against… my native club.
“It is necessary to maintain the flow of information because the war is still going on… it is necessary to show people that the conflict has not ended, by far.
“To be honest, I am a little bit nervous [about the match].
“I will meet my friends, my old team, and I never played against them.
“I want to say thank you so much to my club and our chairman for the support for my country.
“I have some nerves, but I am very happy to return to Goodison.”