When TSG Hoffenheim play against Ukrainian champion Schachtar Donezk in the evening, it will not only be celebrating a premiere. For Hoffenheim it’s the debut in the Champions League, for Schachtar it’s the first royal class match in the Kharkiv stadium (6.55 pm; Stream: Dazn; Liveticker SPIEGEL ONLINE).
Nothing has been normal at Schachtar for a few years now. Almost 300 kilometres away from the home stadium there has been war since 2014, so far it has cost the lives of about 10,000 people. It is a war that has not only changed Ukraine, but also Ukrainian football.
The Premjer Liha, the highest Ukrainian league, has meanwhile shrunk from 16 to 12 teams, as some clubs like Metalist Kharkiv or FK Dnipro, the 2015 European League finalist after all, disappeared due to financial problems. Spectator numbers are declining, not only because the sporting quality of the league has diminished, but also because teams like Zorja Luhansk or Olimpik Donetsk have had to leave their homeland and their supporters because of the war in the Donbass. Problems that the Champions League final held in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in May only covered for a few hours.
But the most famous club to leave its home Donbass because of the war is Schachtar. Since 2014, the club, which last season reached the eighth-finals of the Champions League, has no longer played in Donetsk. After a brief interlude in Lviv, Western Ukraine, where Schachtar played his international games in the arena built for the 2012 European Championship, the club has now found a new home in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine, for both the league and the UEFA competitions.
The team will only be flown in for the matches
However, there can be no question of a new home. The matches in the stadium, which has also been converted for the European Championship 2012, are well attended, but Schachtar is not really accepted in Kharkiv. As soon as the club anthem sounds before the kick-off whistle, the whistles of the Metalist-Charkiw fans are unmistakable.
The club, including its junior teams, is administered from the Ukrainian capital Kiev. The luxurious Opera Hotel, owned by oligarch and chessbox owner Rinat Akhmetov, is the home not only of the club’s managers, but also of many players. After Kharkiv the team is only flown in to the games.
The consequences of the war and the associated tensions and ruptures are also reflected in the supporters of the traditional club. The first signs of this could already be seen during the Majdan Revolution.
When Schachtar received Viktoria Pilsen from the Czech Republic in the Europa League on 27 February 2014, a minute’s silence was observed for 80 demonstrators who had died on the Majdan in Kiev. However, quite a few fans cheered the then still existing special unit of the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior Berkut, which was involved in exactly these incidents.
„The war ended my support.“
How deep the rift caused by the war goes through the association was again demonstrated at the beginning of September after the deadly bomb attack on Alexander Sachartschenko, the head of the self-proclaimed „People’s Republic Donetsk“. His successor was Dimitrij Trapesnikow on an interim basis. Between 2001 and 2005 he organized the fan work at Schachtar. He then went to Kiev, where he worked as a businessman, and returned to Donetsk in 2014 to join the separatists. For more infos on this game check the quotes at 12bet.
And among the first victims of the separatists were supporters of Shakhtar Donetsk. Many fans had to leave Donetsk because of their critical and pro-Ukrainian attitude, especially among the Ultras of the miners‘ club. Like Andrei Ulyanov. „In the eighties, when the Soviet Union still existed, I came from Anapa in southern Russia to Donetsk,“ he told SPIEGEL. „It was a great time, also because of Schachtar. I got to know friends, we went to away games. Conversely, fans of other clubs came to Donetsk. Great friendships developed,“ recalls Ulyanov, who now lives in Kiev. Then came the war. And with him ended his active support for the club.