In 2009, they became only the second Ukrainian team to win a European competition (and the first since independence), and the first to win the UEFA Cup after defeating Werder Bremen in the final, with goals from Brazilians Luiz Adriano and Jádson. The victory earned the player Mariusz Lewandowski the 2009 Polish Footballer of the Year award. This also made them the last UEFA Cup winners before the tournament was rebranded as the UEFA Europa League.
Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine’s most successful football club in recent times, have to play all of their home games 600 miles away in Lviv because of the conflict in the region. Ukraine has been in turmoil since February 2014, with pro-Russian forces claiming large areas of the east of the country. Here, the club’s players and its CEO discuss how the conflict has affected them. We also hear from champion boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko and Kiev’s mayor
Shakhtar is among them. Today, refugees in their own right, they're living and practicing in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and traveling to and from Lviv to play home matches.
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Lviv is strikingly different from Russian-speaking Donetsk in every way. A rich, centuries-long history that saw it change hands between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland and Ukraine left a remarkable mix of architectural styles. In Donetsk, it's mostly Stalin-era blocs all around, with a splattering of unimaginative high-rise glass business centers.
Shakhtar's budget is the biggest, and its stadium, the $425 million Donbass Arena, is perhaps the best in the country, thanks to its billionaire owner and the country's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. The team's legendary coach, 69-year-old Romanian Mircea Lucescu, is a serial winner; its ultras are devout worshipers.
But for the last 10 months, the club's 50,000 seat stadium has lain empty because fighting in eastern Ukraine has made it too dangerous.
Donesk's starting 11 pose for a team photo before the second leg of the Champions League Round of Sixteen soccer match FC Bayern Munich vs FC Shakhtar Donetsk in Munich, Germany, March 11, 2015.
Donbas Arena stadium, one of the venues which hosted the Euro 2012 Soccer tournament, after it was damaged by a shockwave caused by a blast during shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 20, 2014.
The other rivalry was with Metalurh Donetsk was local and, although not as significant as games against the rivals from the capital, the games between the two Donetsk teams were proclaimed the Donetsk Derby. Metalurh went bankrupt in July 2015.
The 35,000-seat Lviv Arena, the temporary home to Shakhtar Donetsk, is mostly empty minutes before the start of the club's match with Olimpik, another Dontesk club, March 15, 2015.
During the Soviet times the club used to have one youth team named Shakhter-D Donetsk that participated in a separate Soviet championship for doubles. Shakhter-D later was reorganized into FC Shakhtar-2 Donetsk and admitted to the Ukrainian First League.
"Politicians always pit people against each other in Ukraine, saying east and west are absolutely different, saying in the east they don't like people from the west and vice versa, in the west they don't like Russian speaking people from the east ... Fans all around Ukraine, in spite of what city they're from support each other and Ukraine, and are truly patriots of our land," says Taras Pavliv, a leader of the Karpaty Ultras — the super fans of Lviv's soccer club.
Shakhtar's hard-core fans, known as "Ultras," the rowdy, shirtless and sometimes mask-clad crew of young men who typically travel everywhere with the team are noticeably absent.
And then war erupted in Ukraine's east, and Donetsk transformed from a bustling million-person metropolis of swanky cafes and glistening high-rises alongside old Soviet blocs to the embattled epicenter of fighting between Kiev's government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
In 1989, an artist, Viktor Savilov, on the event of the club restructuring offered a draft variant of a logo with elements of the ball and a pitch. Some time later, the logo was remodelled into the present one. The emblem was added to the kit in 1997.
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"Almost half of all teams [in Ukraine] don't have home arenas, in other words they don't have home games," says Vitaliy Krutyakov, a journalist for Ukraine's Football 1 and 2 channels.
In 2008, during the presentation of the club's new stadium, Shakhtar's new logo was unveiled. For the first time in over 30 years, the crossed hammers, the traditional symbols of the club, were present on the crest. Also, for the first time the name was written in the Ukrainian language and not Russian.
"We are the team from Donetsk, which lives in Kyiv and plays it's home matches in Lviv. "It's a paradox," he says. "And it's uncomfortable."
Shakhtar Donetsk, arguably Ukraine's greatest football club of present day — some would argue of all-time — hasn't played on its home field in Donetsk since May 2 last year.
LVIV, Ukraine — As the ball strikes the back of the goal, the crowd erupts. But not with its usual flare.
Football Club Shakhtar (Ukrainian: Футбольний клуб «Шахта́р» [fudˈbɔlʲnɪj klub ʃɐxˈtɑr doˈnɛt͡sʲk]) is a Ukrainian professional football club from the city of Donetsk. Since 2014 the club has played out of Lviv with its headquarters in Kyiv.
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But as the conflict reached its peak last summer and rockets rained death down upon Donetsk, he accepted the fact that he and his team "might never go home."
The sense of patriotism in Lviv is evident everywhere — from underground speakeasies whose call-and-response password system is "Glory to Ukraine!" "Glory to heroes!" to the handicrafts sold at market by volunteers to raise money for the war effort. Blue and yellow national flags wave from nearly every building, often times alongside the red and black — "blood and soil" — flag of the more radical nationalists.
"When you don't have a home, it's very hard," he says. "You can do it one or two months. But when it's for more than a year, it's very hard to survive in this situation."
Despite the poor attendance at the March 14 match, Shakhtar pulled off an easy victory in the Donetsk derby, defeating Olimpik 6-0.
As a result of the War in Donbass, few clubs from abroad decided to show solidarity with the Donetsk People's Republic. During a group stage game of the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League the fans of Athletic Bilbao displayed the flag of the Donetsk People's Republic. A similar event took place during a friendly game between Shakhtar and Brazilian Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, when Flamengo fans displayed a Donetsk People's Republic flag in their stand.
In this 35,000-seat stadium on March 14, the mere 2,000 people who are here to watch the Donetsk derby between Shakhtar and Olimpik casually rise and applaud. A group of a couple hundred young students let out screams, but no synchronized chants.
Fundraising for the Ukrainian army in western #Lviv. Assortment of handicrafts sold to raise $ for handmade uniforms. pic.twitter.com/tBV8qTEh4u
Those things, as well as the club's recent success, has attracted the attention of international players as far away as Brazil who outnumber local talent on its roster 2-1.
The team has won Ukraine's Premier League Championship the past five years, and competes in European competitions, including the UEFA Champions League. In 2009, the squad won the UEFA Cup, becoming only the second Ukrainian team ever to do so.
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Shakhtar Donetsk fans wave Ukrainian flags during the final soccer match of Ukraine's Cup between Shakhtar and Dynamo Kiev at Vorskla Stadium in Poltava, Ukraine, Thursday, May 15, 2014.
And so it came as no surprise when some locals met Shakhtar Donetsk's arrival last fall in Lviv with some hostility, hanging signs from its new home field, the 35,000-seat Lviv Arena built for Euro 2012, that read: "Get out of Lviv!"
Towards the end of the decade, the team finally started to look like a team able to become champion. In 1999, a Shakhtar football academy was opened and now hosts football training for roughly 3,000 children. In 2000, Andriy Vorobey was named Ukrainian Footballer of the Year by Komanda, the first Shakhtar player in independent Ukraine to do so, and became the top scorer in the 2000–01 Ukrainian Premier League.
Palkin, Shakhtar's CEO, agrees that Lviv has been supportive. But he says filling the stadium has been a challenge.
They retained the Premier League crown in the 2005–06 season and managed to avenge the defeat to Dynamo in the previous Super Cup by defeating them on penalties to win their first-ever Super Cup title. At the end of the season, Anatoliy Tymoschuk was named Ukrainian Footballer of the Year for by Ukrainskiy Football for the second time, becoming the first Shakhtar player to be named so more than once. Brazilian striker Brandão became the league's joint top scorer.