22-year-old pro soccer player from Ukraine finds refuge with Charlotte Independence

CHARLOTTE — A 22-year-old soccer player from Ukraine is making a name for himself in the Queen City.

Illia Shevtsov left the war-torn country and moved to Charlotte in June, after signing with the Charlotte Independence.

“I can only say sorry to all the people who are now in Ukraine who have lost their siblings, or their parents,” he said.

Shevtsov spent two years in the Ukrainian Premier League but said the stadium where he played was bombed and the second half of the season canceled, in the midst of an ongoing invasion by Russia.

“You know how everyone thinks that America is the best country in the world? Yes, it’s a very beautiful country. It’s a freedom country. But I can say the very same thing about Ukraine,” he said.

“You can be whoever you want. You can wear whatever you want. That’s why I think there’s a conflict with Russia. Russia doesn’t live like this.”

Shevtsov said he speaks with his parents daily, both of whom are still in Ukraine.

“My parents, more or less, are in safety,” he said. “They are in occupied territory but it’s safe because bombs don’t fall from the sky.”

In the U.S., Shevtsov said soccer has become a welcomed escape from the realities of war people are still facing in Ukraine. The 22-year-old scored his first goal with the Independence earlier this month.

“I was happy like a kid, you know?” he said. “I didn’t play official games since December.”

The Charlotte Independence hosted a fundraiser on Aug. 5 to benefit Ukraine.

“I cannot help everyone but I hope all the world will,” he said. “I pray every day that it will stop soon.”

(Watch the video below: Man helping at the Ukraine border spreads the word about need for help for refugees)