AP NEWS

Ukrainian player defends himself against ‘Nazi’ accusations

December 19, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 21, 2016 file photo, Ukraine's Roman Zozulya protest to a referee during the Euro 2016 Group C soccer match between Ukraine and Poland at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, France. The Ukrainian player called “a Nazi” by fans in a Spanish second-division match suspended because of the insults had already been targeted by fans last season. The game between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019 was halted at halftime after Rayo fans used abusive language against Zozulia in chants and a in a banner. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, June 21, 2016 file photo, Ukraine's Roman Zozulya protest to a referee during the Euro 2016 Group C soccer match between Ukraine and Poland at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, France. The Ukrainian player called “a Nazi” by fans in a Spanish second-division match suspended because of the insults had already been targeted by fans last season. The game between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019 was halted at halftime after Rayo fans used abusive language against Zozulia in chants and a in a banner. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

MADRID (AP) — The Ukrainian player insulted by Spanish fans in a second-division match last weekend defended himself Thursday from accusations he has Nazi sympathies.

Albacete forward Roman Zozulia reiterated that he has no connections to radical political groups in his home country, and offered explanations to the photos used by fans to say he has far-right views.

Zozulia spoke four days after the match between Albacete and Rayo Vallecano was suspended at halftime because of insults by Rayo fans against the former Ukraine national team player.

“I’m just a soccer player. I don’t have any political views,” Zozulia said through a translator during a news conference in Albacete. “I wouldn’t want in my team or in my stadium anyone whose ideology supports any type of violence.”

The 30-year-old Zozulia acknowledged he supported the Ukrainians against Russian-backed separatists back home and participated in humanitarian actions “dedicated to help save lives.”

“I’m a patriot, that is not a crime,” Zozulia said. “We never bought any weapons.”

Some Rayo fans accused him of having radical views thanks in part to a series of online photos that showed him alongside army troops, including one in which he held a gun.

“We used to visit some war zones to show our support to the troops, as patriots,” he said.

Zozulia had already been targeted by fans last season. In an Albacete match at Deportivo Lugo in March, the home fans repeated chants of “Die, Zozulia.” There also were reports of other games in which the striker was insulted by fans of Spanish clubs.

Zozulia’s loan from Real Betis to Rayo in 2017 had to be called off because of the protests by Rayo fans, many of which are known for being advocates of left-wing causes.

Zozulia thanked everyone for the messages of support he has received in Spain and at home, including by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Would any president support a Nazi?” Zozulia said. “What people have said of me is not true. I’m just a soccer player and a patriot.”

Zozulia said that despite the recent incidents, he wants to continue to play in Spain, a place he calls his “second home.”

The decision on whether Sunday’s game should be finished will be taken by the Spanish soccer federation. It will also decide what punishment, if any, will be handed to Rayo Vallecano.

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