Ukrainian midfielder dies after long battle with brain tumor

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FC Zorya Lugansk of the Ukrainian Premier League announced on its website Saturday that 24-year-old defender Maksym Bilyi died of what is believed to be a brain tumor.

Bilyi died of a “long and protracted illness,” according to a club statement. “All of us have always known Maksym as a very good man, a decent family man and a loyal friend. FC Zorya expresses its sincere condolences to the family and relatives of Maksym.”

Maksym Ivanovych Bilyi (not to be confused with 23-year-old defender Maksym Ihorovych Bilyi, who also plays for Zorya) made his last appearance on a soccer field on Dec. 11, 2011, against Metalurh Donetsk, coming on as a 46th-minute substitute in a 3-0 loss.

A head-to-head collision in that match left him complaining of constant headaches. Although it was never made public, rumors in the Ukrainian press circulated that Bilyi had developed a brain tumor. What role that collision played in it is unknown, but the tumor was likely discovered as a result of tests conducted after the injury.

On Saturday, the occasion of Bilyi’s death was marked by a minute of silence before Zorya’s league match at FC Illichivets Mariupol.

Bilyi was considered to be a promising young prospect, alongside current Ukrainian national team players Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. In the 2011 UEFA Under-21 Championships, Bilyi scored Ukraine’s only goal, providing the only bright spot in a painful three games for the team.

But he never saw the field again after his collision in 2011, spending time in hospitals in multiple countries, seeking treatment for his tumor, according to reports. According to an obituary published in the Ukrainian online newspaper Football Club, written by Yulia Dyadechko — who was the last reporter to interview Bilyi — he never gave up hope of being cured.

Bilyi, born April 27, 1989, in Novomoskovsk of the former Soviet Union, is survived by his wife and two preschool-aged children.