KYIV, Ukraine — More than 100 people were rooting for Ukraine’s national soccer team in the front of the Corner Pub, but a look at the back rooms of the bar made it clear that its customers were more than just sports fans.
There were helmets, bandages, hand warmers and intravenous bags in one of the bar’s store rooms on Monday night, all destined for the front lines. “It’s a logistics hub,” the pub’s owner, Oleksii Marchuk, said.
Named for its perch outside the capital’s now-closed Olympic Stadium, the Corner Pub has long been a gathering point for die-hard supporters of Dynamo Kyiv, one of Ukraine’s most famous professional teams. But since Russia’s full-scale invasion, it has also become a substitute for their shuttered stadium and a hub to help the war effort.
Beyond just cheering on their team, the fans have become fund-raisers, military boosters and logistics experts — and in some cases soldiers themselves.
“There is no group that has no people in the war,” Mr. Marchuk said Monday night. That includes the close-knit Dynamo Kyiv community.
The team’s distinctive patches, which are allowed to be worn on military uniforms, are on display in the pub’s three sprawling rooms underground. So, too, are reminders of the war, from a sign outside celebrating “every” dead Russian to munitions leaning in an alcove.
Some of Ukraine’s most hard-core soccer supporters, or “ultras,” have a history of violent hooliganism or have been linked to the extreme right and white supremacy, but they are a minority of fans. The ultras have also defended pro-democracy protesters and become a powerful organizing force across the political spectrum.
In the early days of the war, with Kyiv under attack, the pub’s staff moved in beds and cooked for the military from morning until night. Now, they distribute gear to Dynamo Kyiv supporters on the front lines and host table tennis tournaments to raise funds for the fight.
The military supplies change from day to day, Mr. Marchuk said. On Monday, there were intravenous bags, while on other days there might be bulletproof vests, tourniquets or power banks. Some items are donated, and others are sourced based on requests from fellow fans on the battlefield.
“I want my friends to be alive. I want my friends to be healthy. I want them to be drinking a beer in the pub after the war,” Mr. Marchuk said. “That’s why I’m doing my best.”
He said it had been hard to keep the pub afloat: Business suffered during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. And then Ukraine’s professional soccer season was suspended when Russia invaded and the stadium was forced to close. Teams went into exile, playing abroad and in exhibition matches. Club teams are now playing again in Ukraine, but in empty stadiums without fans.
On Monday, patrons at the bar were cheering on Ukraine’s national team as it played Malta in a 2024 European Championship qualifier match.
“People are not coming often for beers” since the invasion, he said. “Today is a special day.”
Those at the bar sat quietly as players took the field. Unmoved as Malta’s national anthem sounded, they rose in unison for Ukraine’s, singing along. After the final notes a chant broke out: “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to Heroes.”
Illia Kushnarov settled into a wooden seat to watch the game with a friend. He said that he had attended his first match at 3 years old and that his family always rooted for Dynamo Kyiv.
“It’s really in our blood,” he said, sipping his drink. Now 25, he estimated he had attended more than 200 matches.
Today, “of course we are missing the football, the stadium and this feeling,” Mr. Kushnarov said, trailing off as a penalty kick ripped into the net.
He said the atmosphere in the stadium of 60,000 fans was so different — but it was more important to “help our guys right now on the front.”
That is why he and his friend set up their own charity, first for “small stuff” like food and now providing supplies and even vehicles.
“Everything we have, we are trying to give,” he said. “Everybody has a friend in the war.”
The Corner Pub, he said, has given him community and purpose — but also a refuge.
“Everybody needs a rest,” he added. “Just for a little bit — to have a drink, relax, because we cannot live every day, every minute, every second in war.”
Stanislav Kozliuk contributed reporting.