Arsenal footballer Oleksandr Zinchenko says he would leave the UK to fight in Ukraine if he was called up.

The 27-year-old told BBC Newsnight he has donated about £1m to help people in his home country since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

He said Ukraine has become a “shield” for Europe and called for more support.

On Wednesday, the country’s president signed into law a bill lowering the military mobilisation age from 27 to 25.

This would allow the country to call up more people to replenish its reserves and comes after President Volodymyr Zelensky said in December that the country would need 500,000 more soldiers to be mobilised.

BBC Newsnight asked the footballer whether he would answer a call-up to fight, if he saw more value in that than staying to play football in the Premier League.

“I think it’s a clear answer. I would go [to fight]”, he said.

He added that he had former school friends fighting on the frontline.

“It’s tough to understand that just recently we’ve been in the same school, we were playing in the playground or on the football pitch, and now they have to defend our country,” he said.

“And, honestly, [it’s] so hard to accept this, but it is what it is. We cannot give up.”

Mr Zinchenko said the situation in the country is “super tough” but he and his family were “proud of our president”.

“I know maybe some people might think that it’s much easier … for me being here [in London] rather than being there [in Ukraine]. I really hope that this war will end soon,” he said.

‘I will teach my kids what they’ve done’

The Arsenal defender began his football career with Russian team Ufa in 2016, and said he no longer talks to his friends or former teammates that are in Russia.

“Since the invasion really few [have] texted me and sent me some messages and I can’t blame them because this is not their fault,” he said.

“I cannot tell them, ‘Guys, do the protests outside and all these things’, because I know they can be [put] in prison.”

He said Russians used to call Ukrainians their “brothers” and “sisters”, but the invasion has shown “all of us Ukrainians that we can’t be friends with them any more”.

“We will never forget what they have done to us, to our people,” he said. “And that’s what I will teach my kids as well. And my kids will teach their kids. This is not acceptable.”

In February, President Zelensky said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed during Russia’s full-scale invasion and tens of thousands of civilians had died in areas of the country occupied by Russia.

Getty Images Oleksandr Zinchenko wears a t-shirt reading 'No War' at Goodison Park on 26 February 2022 in Liverpool, United KingdomGetty Images

In the first few days of the invasion, Mr Zinchenko said he sent money to help refugees in Ukraine, and his donations have amounted to over £1m.

He added that he knows of hundreds of children whose parents have died in the war.

The Arsenal star said: “What is my duty now? How can I help as much as I can to my country, to my people, over there and all these things?

“I can’t be more proud than I am right now to be Ukrainian.

“I have a dream that this war will end very, very soon, and we can rebuild our Ukraine like we really want [to].”