A promising youth goalkeeper from Ukraine, who fled his country following its invasion by Russia, is continuing to pursue his football dreams with J-League side Yokohama FC.

A native of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, 19-year-old Yaroslav Shtonda left the country after the invasion began last February and eventually came to Japan in November with help from his aunt, who lives in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Through her efforts, the teen, who had been a member of a national championship-winning underage side in Ukraine, was accepted into Yokohama FC's youth academy.

Yaroslav Shtonda, a 19-year-old refugee from Ukraine, practices goalkeeping with J-League side Yokohama FC in Yokohama on March 1, 2023. (Kyodo)

On Wednesday, Shtonda had the opportunity to train with Yokohama FC's J-League first-division side for the first time.

"I was really happy and a little nervous," Shtonda said. "I didn't want to finish training."

During the session, the young goalkeeper practiced stopping shots from former Japan great Shunsuke Nakamura, now a senior team assistant coach at the club where he ended his playing career last year.

Shtonda said the experience made him more determined to realize his dream of playing football at the highest level.

"It made me want to try even harder," he said. "I want to go pro and play for the Ukraine national team."