Ukrainian football stars Andriy Shevchenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko are backing a “vital” education scheme for students affected by the war.

The goal of the new foundation is to create future leaders who will help “rebuild and regenerate” the war-torn country, said the former Ballon d’Or winner.

Mr Shevchenko, who scored 48 goals for Ukraine during his playing career, and Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, spearheaded the launch of the Oxbridge Foundation at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire on Monday (November 6).

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The foundation aims to fund up to 20 placements for Ukraine students, aged 17 to 19, on one-year programmes at Cherwell College and UC Berkeley in California in the hope of securing secure ­university places at Oxford and Cambridge.

Mr Shevchenko, 46, who has recently accepted an adviser to Ukraine leader President Volodymyr Zelensky, spoke of the importance of helping the country’s “next generation.”

Oxford Mail: Andriy Shevchenko shoots during the Game4Ukraine match at Stamford BridgeAndriy Shevchenko shoots during the Game4Ukraine match at Stamford Bridge (Image: PA)

He said: “Supporting the educational development of young people is essential to empowering the next generation.

“It is vital as part of our united efforts to rebuild Ukraine and help our people.

"By nurturing their talent and investing in their futures, the work of the Oxbridge Foundation will have a fundamental impact on the lives of these students, their families and communities."

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He hoped the students who benefit from the foundation would one day return to Ukraine to use the skills they learn to benefit the country.

Oxford Mail: Andriy Shevchenko at the Oxbridge Foundation launch

He said: "It could be the future of Ukraine as all these students will come back to Ukraine and help to rebuild and regenerate the country.

"I think it is a very strong message. We have just started and I think in 10 years we can get some good numbers."

Following the Isreal-Gaza conflict, public attention has "moved away from the war against Russia" but Shevchenko added that continuing to raise awareness of Ukraine means “everything” to the country.

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He said: “We know we need the rest of the world to help us.

“Anytime when I have the chance to remind everyone about the current situation in Ukraine, I am doing it."

Mr Zinchenko, 26, formerly of Manchester City and PSV has been capped 57 times by his country, echoed this saying it is “essential” that the war in Ukraine is not forgotten about.

The Arsenal player was beamed onto a screen at the Oxfordshire event virtually from a remote location.

Oxford Mail: Oleksandr Zinchenko after the Game4Ukraine match at Stamford Bridge

He said: “I am proud to support the vital work of the Oxbridge Foundation as part of my ongoing commitment to supporting the lives of all Ukrainian people who have been affected by the war.

“It’s essential we do not forget the damage that is still going on and how this affects all Ukrainians around the world.

“It’s outrageous, but we stand together as Ukrainians and will keep moving forward. We’re privileged here in the UK and we can make a difference by working together, the support here has helped so much.”

Mr Shevchenko also spoke about being evacuated from his home town as a child following the Chernobyl disaster.

The former Chelsea and AC Milan striker grew up near the power plant which suffered a devastating explosion in one of its reactors in 1986.

He said: “It was kept secret and we didn’t know exactly what was going on.

“My father was serving in the USSR at that time and there was the rumour and then we started to understand what was going on."

Oxford Mail: Andriy Shevchenko at the Oxbridge Foundation launch

He revealed how shortly after the blast he brought home a football which turned out to be radioactive.

“The football when I brought it back home, my dad had a device to get exactly the measure of radiation.

"It was a shock. It was immediately thrown away. It was a very dangerous situation"

As a result of the Chernobyl disaster, which directly killed 50 people and affected thousands more, Shevchenko had to evacuate Kyiv.

His home was around 200 kilometres from the accident, and he, like many children, was moved away from the area because of radiation fears.

He ended up on the shore of the Sea of Azov, some 1,500 kilometres from home, before later returning to Kyiv.

He said: "It affected all children in Ukraine. One day the country decided to remove all of the students from school and we were evacuated. 

"We had to leave our families and go away. I was not thinking about playing again but my coach came back and talked to my parents, and it reminded me that I could."

Mr Shevchenko went on to play for Dynamo Kyiv, AC Milan and Chelsea in a star-studded career.

The Oxbridge Foundation was established by Stephen and Helen Clark.

Mr Clarke is a former diplomat and first secretary for the British government in Ukraine and is now Principal of Cherwell College Oxford.

His wife Ms Clark was born in Ukraine and is the vice principal of Cherwell College.

Oxford Mail: Andriy Shevchenko with Helen and Stephan Clarke

Mr Clarke, trustee of the Oxbridge Foundation said: “The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has affected the educational opportunities of so many bright, young Ukrainian people.

"We hope through the work of our foundation, we will empower them to continue their studies and restore their learning and development opportunities.”

The foundation will host a Gala Dinner at Blenheim Palace next March to raise funds and awareness to support their work over the next year.

The Oxbridge Foundation has already begun to sponsor Ukrainian students at summer camps earlier this year at UC Berkeley, California and at Cherwell College.

Students who benefited from the camps have been shortlisted to be among the first to receive further scholarships through the foundation.