- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

WARSAW (AP) - With their home country torn apart by conflict, the players of surprise Europa League finalist Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk say they are simply focusing on providing fans with “a little bit of happiness.”

This season has proved a fairytale for Dnipro, which has reached its first European final against reigning champion Sevilla on Wednesday.

The Ukrainians knocked out more favored teams such as Ajax and Napoli on the way, even though the conflict means they have not been allowed to play any of their European games at home in Dnipropetrovsk.

“Now in Ukraine, because there’s a war going on in the east, people are without emotions, they’re devastated,” team captain Ruslan Rotan said Tuesday. “Maybe if we win … we’ll be able to bring even a little bit of happiness to these people. But politics has nothing to do with it.”

On Wednesday, “we’re playing for Ukraine,” midfielder Valery Fedorchuk said, adding that even to reach the final was a huge achievement. “We’re just dreaming of playing … It’s a festival for us.”

Rotan also revealed that Dnipro players have been funding trips to the final for fans after Ukraine’s ravaged economy and a collapse in the value of the country’s currency made it hard for supporters to travel to Warsaw.

“From an economic perspective, not all the fans can make it to a historic match like this and it’s not right,” Rotan said. “We in the team have helped people in some ways, people who are really suffering in a financial sense. We made some presents to them so they can get to the game. Of course, you can’t help everyone.”

Rotan said he and teammates had bought tickets for fans and paid for them to travel to Poland, with a particular focus on disabled fans. “It’s hard to count” how many the team has helped, he said.

The mostly Russian-speaking city of Dnipropetrovsk may be outside the conflict zone around Donetsk, but it has been seriously affected by the political and economic turbulence that has rocked Ukraine over the last 18 months.

In March, Ukrainian authorities said they had found a cell of armed pro-Russian militants in the city, while Ukraine’s rampant inflation, now over 60 percent, has driven up the cost of living.

Dnipro is also tangled up in Ukraine’s political rivalries through its owner, billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who has funded volunteer battalions to fight pro-Russian separatists but has also become a key political rival to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Kolomoyskiy also served as the regional governor for Dnipropetrovsk and the surrounding area until he was fired by Poroshenko in March.

On the pitch, the club may have to cope without its hero of the tournament so far.

Yevhen Seleznyov, the striker whose goals knocked out Club Brugge in the quarterfinals and Napoli in the semifinals, has been struggling for fitness. Coach Myron Markevych has been tight-lipped about the nature of the injury but admits it has put his chances of playing in the final in doubt.

Markevych’s dilemma is whether to start Seleznyov or Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic, formerly of Blackburn Rovers, who is more of a technical player and lacks Seleznyov’s physical presence.

“He has missed some time, that is true, after being injured,” Markevych said. “But honestly speaking, I have not decided yet whether he or Kalinic will go and play.”

A Champions League place is on offer for the winner Wednesday, something which Markevych said “adds incentive” for a Dnipro team which has not played in the top-tier European competition since reaching the quarterfinals of the old European Cup in 1990.

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