‘Three Hours of the American Way of Life’: Football as Fantasy in Ukraine

football sitting on a field
Photo by Elvert Barnes (CC BY 2.0)

Photojournalist Alexey Furman and writer Robert Langellier spent time with the Azov Dolphins, a football team in a town close the front lines of the violence in Ukraine. In a sad, intimate piece in Roads & Kingdoms, they explore the hope and hopelessness of young Ukrainians.

“I really like history,” he says. “I found a source that says the U.S. owes Russia $12 trillion. So Americans started this war in Ukraine against Russia, so that the documents proving this will be burned. It says the Americans want to start a third world war to find these documents and burn them.”

Being in the epicenter of a reality-bending information war between Ukraine and Russia, Dima, like most in Mariupol, has no idea what to believe. Half the time, people don’t even know who the combatants are. Some think the shelling from the rebels was actually the Russians, some the Americans. Some believe the Ukrainian army shelled itself in order to blame the rebels.

What is beginning in the U.S. has been ongoing for years in Ukraine. Disinformation has split a country into brutal civil strife.

American football, though, is an escape. Dima likes the Miami Dolphins, though he can’t name the players. “They create miracles on the field,” he says. The only place he knows he wants to go besides Kiev is Miami, Florida. He wonders if football can someday take him there.

“When I play American football, I feel like I’m in America,” he says. “When I’m in practice, I imagine playing in the NFL on one of the great teams in one of the great stadiums with lights shining on me and people applauding me. I’m jumping to catch the ball. It’s a great moment.”

Dima mentions that dolphins, by nature, aren’t supposed to be in the Sea of Azov. They aren’t well-suited to the pollution and the increasingly shallow depth, so when they slip through the Kerch Strait and find themselves in the Azov, they often get rescued and thrown back into the Black Sea.

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