Donetsk Euro 2012 Host CityBy
Nicknamed the “City of a Million Roses”, Donetsk probably isn’t a place on many peoples bucket list of place they simply have to visit. The city was founded by a Welshman called John Hughes who developed the coal and steel industry in the area and it is still an important centre for these industries in Ukraine today.
A by-product of the mining activities are the numerous spoil tips (aka slag heaps) that litter the landscape in and around the city. If you have ever flown to the Maldives, you will have seen the many islands dotted around in the Indian Ocean. On approach to Donetsk airport, the spoil tips are distributed around the countryside but that is where the tenuous link to the Maldives ends.
Donetsk was originally called Yusovka in recognition of the Welshman who settled here with his family and workers from South Wales to develop a steel plant and the coal mining industry. Today, it is still an important centre of steel works and is home to more than a million people. Due to it’s location in Eastern Ukraine, there are a significant number of ethnic Russians who actually outnumber Ukrainians.
As with many ex-Soviet cities, a large statue of Lenin is never far away. At the heart of Donetsk is Lenin Square complete with a statue of the man. Artema Street runs next to Lenin Square and people visiting for the first time may be surprised at the amount of trees and parks in the centre. In summer, temperatures are regularly into the mid 30s celcius (95F) so walking in the shade of the trees can be a welcome relief. There are a number of bars and cafes along Artema Street where you can have a drink and watch the world go by.
Like many towns and cities in this part of the world, there is plenty of history and places to discover. Unfortunately, time was limited as the main event was football.
Donetsk has a sporting heritage. It is home to the legendary Soviet pole vaulter Serhiy Bubka and regularly holds international competitions including Davis Cup matches. Shaktar Donetsk won the UEFA Cup in 2009 and in recent times, the Hockey Club, futsal team, volleyball team and basketball teams have also won various titles.
In the quest to become a Euro 2012 host city, Donetsk fought off competition from Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa. The magnificent Donbass Arena was selected for Group D matches, a quarter final and a semi final. Given the city’s links to Britain, perhaps it was fate that England would play two matches here.
The Donbass Arena is one of the best ‘new’ stadia I have visited on my travels. It is in a beautiful setting of woodland, lakes and lawns. At night time, it is beautifully illuminated. Nearby is a war museum with a few Soviet era tanks and various memorials to fallen soldiers from past conflicts.
Group D was made up of Ukraine, England, France and Sweden. Considering Ukraine were the host nation and would have had an influence on the venues, it is surprising they picked Donetsk as their record there is awful. In 8 attempts they have drawn twice and lost six times which hardly makes it a lucky stadium for them.
The first match of Euro 2012 in Donetsk was between England and France. The difficult journey to Donetsk (14 hours overnight train from Kiev) meant the numbers of England and France fans were much lower than normal but the local Russian and Ukrainian fans flocked to the game and the stadium was pretty close to capacity.
The game ended 1-1 and following the final whistle, it was time to board the coach to head back to Donetsk airport. The newly built airport is a superb building and moving through security to the aircraft was as smooth as anywhere I’ve been in the world.
My visit to Donetsk was only short but very enjoyable. If you are ever in this part of Ukraine, take time to look round. You may be pleasantly surprised, just as I was.