Boy, 12, signs for Dundee Utd after fleeing war in Ukraine

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Stanislav Drabych – known as Stas – has signed a deal with Dundee United

A 12-year-old boy whose family fled the war in Ukraine has signed for Dundee United after settling in Scotland.

Stanislav Drabych, known as Stas, moved to Monifieth in Angus – where his new school quickly learned about his abilities on the pitch.

After a tip-off from his head teacher, the club's coaches offered Stas a trial which he completed in September.

He told the BBC he would like to repay the Tannadice club by one day helping them win the league.

"It's like Christmas Day, I can play football again," he told the BBC.

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The 12-year-old was part of the Lviv football school in Ukraine

Previously Stas was part of the Lviv academy Rukh – a residential school that provided training and schooling.

He had been off the pitch for several months as the conflict with Russia escalated, a hiatus that left him worried about losing touch with the game.

He said: "Before I moved from Ukraine, I didn't play for three months. I forgot what football means and how to play football – now I'm happy.

"If we stay in Scotland I'll play for Dundee United – if they help me I'll help them to win the Scottish league."

Image caption,

Stas (right) with his father, mother and siblings – taken a year ago, just before the war began

The 12-year-old left Ukraine with his father, mother and siblings and moved to his aunt's Monifieth home in March.

That same month, around 300 people were killed in an attack on a theatre sheltering civilians in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Although Stas said life in Scotland had not been difficult, he still worries about friends that were left behind.

"I'm scared," he said. "Before the war, the life was happy.

"I wasn't very worried about anything but now I'm worried about my friends, worried about shelling and worried they might be killed."

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Stas said he keeps in touch with his Ukrainian friends online and by phone, but admits it was initially difficult to make friends in Scotland because of the language barrier.

However, safeguarding staff at Dundee Utd "buddied" him with an established player which has vastly improved his English.

Stas said: "At first I didn't speak with anyone, only with my family. But I started to make new friends and started to speak in school."

Niall Nicolson, the club's head of player care, education and safeguarding, added: "We take player care very seriously at Dundee United and have done all we can to help Stas and his family.

"His dad was also out of work initially, so we helped with transport to training and also used Google Translate on the phone to communicate.

"Stas also got the chance, as other academy players do, to be the ball boy at a game. He loved the experience and we'll do all we can to help him – and all players under our care – feel at home at Dundee United."

In the meantime Stas, who plays centre back and right back, says he is adapting to the style of Scottish football.

"Scottish football is hard because it's more physical," he said. "Not much technical but they pass the ball very quickly."

He hopes one day to play like Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk – considered one of the best defenders in the world – and perhaps even land a contract with Barcelona.

He added: "Life is not hard for me – I live with my family, in Ukraine I lived with my team. I'm a strong boy and have had a lot of adventures."


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