Poland have announced that they won't be playing football against Russia in the World Cup qualifier that is scheduled to take place next month following the invasion Ukraine. Following the invasion, UEFA took one match away from Russia but did not drop them out of World Cup qualifying. However, now Poland has refused to take the field against Russia as a mark of protest.
The news comes as almost 10,000 Ukrainians reportedly crossed into Poland in fear of their lives. There were desperate scenes at the Poland border as mothers who were reunited with their children wept as they hugged them, while fathers waved goodbye to their partners and children.
Poland will not be taking the field against Russia in their 2022 World Cup play-off on March 24 in Moscow, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to the president of the Polish football federation.
"In light of the escalation of the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine, the Polish national team is not going to play a match against Russian Republic," the president of the Polish Football Association, Cezary Kulesza, said on Saturday.
It is the "only correct decision. We are in talks with the Swedish and Czech Republic federations to present a common position to FIFA," he said.
The UEFA has taken one match away from Russia following the invasion on Ukraine but didn't throw the team out of the World Cup qualifiers. As a result, Russia remains in Path B of the European play-offs, alongside Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Poland.
If Russia wins against Poland, they will face the winner of Sweden v Czech Republic in a one-off final five days later to qualify for the Qatar showpiece, but Kulesza has confirmed that his side will not be participating in the tournament at all.
Polish national team players also took to social media to express their support for the move.
"I can't imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can't pretend that nothing is happening," Robert Lewandowski, Poland's football captain wrote in a tweet.
Kamil Glik, Mateusz Klich, Matty Cash and other players said it was not an easy decision but "there are more important things in life than football". They also expressed solidarity with Ukraine "and our friend from the national team, Tomasz Kedziora, who is still in Kyiv with his family".
The announcement comes as the Russia-Ukraine conflict enters its third day since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion that has murdered dozens of people, driven more than 100,000 people to evacuate Ukraine in less than 48 hours, and fueled concerns of a larger European confrontation.
On Saturday morning an estimated 9,000 refugees fled Ukraine and entered Poland. The UN estimates that over 12,000 people have fled Ukraine in the past three days.
Women and children are the majority of those departing Ukraine, since the Ukrainian border agency has forbidden men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving in order to ensure "Ukraine's defense and the organization of timely mobilization."
Poland, with a population of approximately one million Ukrainians, has witnessed a swarm of refugees arrive at its borders since the war with Russia began. So far, almost 120,000 individuals have crossed the border from Ukraine into Poland. As Ukrainians gather their belongings and flee a deadly Russian offensive on their country, including an attempt to take the capital Kyiv, the number is rapidly rising.