Kelty Hearts: Ukrainian title hero says football stops him thinking of war
In a fairytale story for Kelty Hearts this season, there have been many compelling chapters, Ukrainian Max Kucheriavyi scoring the goal to clinch the League 2 title is perhaps the best of them all.
Going until Boxing Day undefeated in the cinch League Two, building up an early, unassailable lead at the top of the table and defeating Scottish Cup holders St Johnstone at home are all up there, yet perhaps the most emotional tale has been saved until the end, with Kucheriavyi scoring the goal that clinched the title for the Maroon Machine with five games to go.
Coupled with Annan’s surprise 4-2 defeat by Albion Rovers, Kelty’s gritty 1-0 win over Stenhousemuir sparked wild celebrations in the old Fife coal mining town. On course for a third successive goalless draw, St Johnstone loanee Kucheriavyi headed home on 84 minutes to secure promotion to League One for Kevin Thomson’s men.
As the celebrations went on at full-time, it was hard not to smile for 19-year-old Kucheriavyi, whose parents have had to flee Kyiv due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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"It has been a very, very hard month for me mentally but you try to focus on football as much as possible,” said the second-half substitute. “It was the only thing that helped to stop checking the news, to stop scrolling on my phone, so I try to enjoy every second in football.
"It's been very good to play, to train, just to forget about things and do the things that you love.
"All my family is back home. They had to leave Kyiv but they are now in a safer place. I'm so pleased that they are safe and they can keep in touch with me. I phone them every day now, just checking up on them, how they are, if everything is good. I also keep in touch with many, many people back home.
"I'm very proud of them and I hope they are as proud of me as I am proud of them."
Thomson could not speak highly enough of his match-winner. “We've had to support him,” Thomson told the BBC. “we've had to talk to [St Johnstone assistant coach] Steven MacLean to see what the message is from St Johnstone so that we can follow that, because ultimately he is a St Johnstone player.
"I have to say, what a diamond of a boy. He's got the X-factor. We are delighted with him. He's a really, really top young boy."