European soccer governing body UEFA told Ukraine on Thursday it could keep a map showing Crimea on its new national shirt despite objections from Russia but must remove the phrase "Glory to the heroes" due to military connotations.
Ukraine's kit, due to feature in the European Championship, has stirred rivalries with Moscow because it includes an outline map showing the peninsula of Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014 but which remains internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.
A slogan at the back reads "Glory to Ukraine" while inside the shirt are the words "Glory to the heroes"—a military greeting in Ukraine.
UEFA said the map was not a concern given it reflected U.N.-recognized borders, nor was the phrase "Glory to Ukraine."
But it ordered the removal of the second phrase, given the "specific combination of the two slogans is deemed to be clearly political in nature, having historic and militaristic significance," a UEFA statement said.
The decision sparked a backlash in Ukraine and roused anger in neighboring Russia.
Ukraine had said the shirt was a symbol of national unity. President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a selfie on Instagram with the jersey on this week and his office defended the slogans as "absolutely correct."
"These phrases are written in the soul of every Ukrainian," it said in a statement to Reuters.
The head of the Football Association of Ukraine Andriy Pavelko said he had flown to Rome for emergency talks with UEFA, adding that UEFA had earlier given preliminary approval for the design.
"This slogan has long been a traditional greeting for our fans at all stadiums and at all matches of the national team of Ukraine!" he wrote on Facebook. "It is football and that is why it was approved by UEFA."
Pavelko said negotiations were ongoing.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv collapsed after the annexation of Crimea and the start of a Russian-backed separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014 that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
"It is not for a state that is waging an aggressive war against Ukraine to cancel our Glory. Although Russia only dreams of 'abolishing' Ukraine," former President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.
Opposition lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko praised Ukrainians for flooding the Russian foreign ministry's Facebook page with praise for the jersey's design.
Commenting on the kit controversy, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said sport should not be mixed with politics.
"Sports is not a battlefield, but a place for competition; it is not a political arena but an athletic one. Become heroes of sports and you will have your glory," she said.
The Ukrainian slogans also sparked a row during the World Cup in Russia in 2018, when Croatian defender Domagoj Vida apologized for using the words "Glory to Ukraine" in a video posted online.