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FC Sevastopol's Denis Prychynenko focusing on football, not Crimea crisis

For a German footballer playing in Crimea, the political upheaval provides plenty of reason to be distracted. But FC Sevastopol's Denis Prychynenko focuses on one thing - the football.

Denis Prychynenko moved to Ukrainian Premier League club Sevastopol during the 2013 European summer transfer window with the idea of gaining experience, playing time, and exploring a new culture. Instead he found himself in the middle of a political standoff between Russia and the West.

The 22-year-old defender and midfielder moved to the Crimean club after the owner at his previous team, Scotland's Heart of Midlothian, went bankrupt.

"Players who earned a little bit more money than other players had to go so I was looking for a new club and Sevastopol was the first club who was in for me," Prychynenko told DW.

For Prychynenko, Sevastopol made sense. He was born in the eastern German city of Potsdam, but speaks Russian thanks to his Crimean father. So the city not only offered warm Black Sea weather and a chance at regular club football, but also nearby family and friends.

"I took that offer right away because I know the standard of football is quite good," he said. "I thought, 'I'll go to Sevastopol. It's a good city, it's a good team.'

"My father is from [nearby] Simferopol as well, so I have family members living one hour away from here."

Unexpected interference

Things started reasonably well for Prychynenko at Sevastopol. The newly-promoted club was above the relegation zone by Christmas, with an eye on a top-10 finish. But the crisis in Ukraine forced the league, and Sevastopol, into a longer-than-expected winter break.

Originally scheduled to resume at the start of March, the league postponed the second half the season for two weeks following the protests that unseated President Viktor Yanukovych and the incursion into Crimea by Russian troops that followed. On March 16, one day after league play resumed, Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation - a move

signed into law by President Vladimir Putin the next week

.

Yet despite the uncertain political future of Crimea, Prychynenko says the players at FC Sevastopol are only thinking about one thing, and that's the football.

"I think [the attitude at the club] is actually the same as always," he said. "As a team we are professional football players so we shouldn't be different because it's our job to play football. I think everybody just does their job and doesn't think about what's happening in this country."

Uncertain future

Russia's annexation of Crimea, a majority Russian-speaking region, puts the future of its two top-flight Ukrainian Premier League teams in limbo. There are rumors that both FC Sevastopol and SC Tavriya Simferopol club officials have already decided to join the Russian league next season. Neither team, however, has commented publicly on their futures and, additionally, Prychynenko says FC Sevastopol prohibit their players from talking about the political situation in Crimea.

For the young German, the drama off the pitch has made him focus solely on the season at hand. Prychynenko feels comfortable at his new club, and doesn't want to think about moving to another team despite the political upheaval in Crimea.

"I like it here, I like Sevastopol, I like the team, so I've never thought about anything else," he said. "I signed a contract here. When I sign a contract, I'm the kind of player who doesn't think about other teams. I want to fulfill my contract and just think about Sevastopol."

But given the political turmoil, coupled with the uncertainty of football, Prychynenko knows a long-term future at FC Sevastopol is difficult to predict.

"I think it depends on the situation," he said. "Now the situation is quite difficult so I never try to look toward the future, I just live in the moment and I don't think about what's going on. I go to training, I go to games and do my best and what will happen, will happen, so I don't think much about it."

German Bundesliga 'dream'

For now, Prychynenko seems to be enjoying his Crimean adventure. His ultimate goal, however, is to return to Germany, and the move to Sevastopol was made with one eye on a potential jump to the next level of football.

"My dream was always to play in the Bundesliga at one point," he said. "I think I want to improve myself and maybe at some point when I'm 24 or something, I think I can say 'yeah I'm ready to take a higher step - maybe to the Bundesliga.' That would be my dream."

Before his next step, though, Prychynenko has the current season in Ukraine to see out. The team is eying a top-10 finish, though the optimistic German believes even Europa League qualification isn't unrealistic. Sevastopol's first game at home since the crisis in Crimea broke out ended in a 1-0 win over Vorskla Poltava on April 4.

Prychynenko says the team's success at home is owed in large part to the city's passionate fans, who continue to rally around the team amid all the political upheaval.

"The fans love football here so I think they have our back," he said. "We made them proud in this game."

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