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Donetsk gears up for semi-final showdown

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Steve Wilson | 11:05 UK time, Tuesday, 26 June 2012

I am back in Donetsk for Wednesday's semi-final metting between Spain and Portugal.

Donetsk is the mining and industrial heartland of Eastern Ukraine. In Soviet times it was a centre for the manufacture of military hardware and as such was closed to foreign travellers.

I first visited Donetsk in 2000 with Arsenal, for a match against a new emerging force in Ukrainian football - the previously little-known Shakhtar.

At that time, the region still felt as far removed from Western Europe as is possible. There were two hotels in Donetsk, one was terrible and the other was worse. Arsenal brought their own food, bedding, toilet roll and cleaners; the rest of us had to make do.

We were warmly welcomed, though. I remember travelling through dimly-lit streets to Shakhtar's stadium for training the night before the match and having an orange and black Shakhtar scarf thrust into my hand by a supporter. He just wanted the name of his club to be spread abroad. He's certainly had his wish, with a 2009 Uefa Cup victory and Champions League football almost guaranteed every year.

Donbass Arena, Donetsk

The Donbass Arena in Donetsk was paid for by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. Photo: Reuters

Twelve years on since my first visit and Donetsk has changed enormously, although it would still struggle to be described as a tourist trap.

Enormous slag heaps rise in the distance, and the old Soviet-style bureaucracy is fading only slowly, judging by the leaflet we were given at our hotel. "The Main Territorial Department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Ukraine in the Donetsk region and the Main Department of State of Technogenic Safety in the Donetsk region welcome you." Err, thanks!

Back in 2000, Arsenal had already qualified for the next phase of the Champions League and their side, which included my BBC co-commentator Martin Keown, lost 3-0 to Shakhtar.

On Monday I walked past Lenin Square, down Pushkin Boulevard and across the bridge that crosses First City Pond (actually a big lake) to the old stadium. It is a sorry sight, locked and crumbling, a relic of Donetsk and Shakhtar's past.

A couple of miles away at the other end of town the extraordinary Donbass Arena is being prepared for the semi-final between Spain and Portugal. It was the first stadium in Eastern Europe to be given Uefa elite status, and boy does it deserve the accolade. It is so good that frankly it makes Arsenal's Emirates Stadium look a little dated.

There were long queues forming at the ticket collection windows this morning for a contest being billed as between Spain, one of the best football teams of all time, and Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players of this or of any generation. The sense of occasion is palpable, as is the sense that Donetsk, situated right on the eastern fringes of Europe, has arrived on European football's centre stage.


  • Comment number 1.

    Shame about the high price of flights as well as lack of flights and lack of accommodation in Donetsk. It also doesn't help that Portugal is at the opposite end of Europe. Don't expect more than 3-4,000 Portuguese fans.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    @1 the fact less people made the trip is what has made the Euros.

    Donetsk is a friendly city & the extra cost of the flight is more than made up with the lower cost of living. There is accommodation, but you do have to accept that it may not be western in standard (but not awful either). Thoroughly enjoyed my 10 days there over the last couple of weeks.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks for the blog.
    I live in Donetsk for 8 months of the year. I recently saw the daily mirror describe Donetsk as "the Barnsley of Ukraine". Having been brought up in Sheffield (next to Barnsley), I assure anyone that whoever wrote that article in the mirror had never set foot in Donetsk. Donetsk is a nice city with open spaces and yes, even the accomodation is catching up with western standards. Food is cheap but clothes etc are more expensive than in the UK. Racism exists everywhere however, I have seen very little ever in Donetsk and you would be surprised how many African students choose to come to study here.
    BTW...glad England would have been an affront to football if they won.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    By the magic of Google streetview I would agree that the stadiums are night and day different.

    Saw Donetsk play against Celtic in Glasgow about 7 years ago now. We beat them on penalties then, but you could tell with the money they were headed for big things.

  • Comment number 7.

    I really hope Portugal win, getting tired of watching Spain and their perfect football, would like to see them troubled a bit, see how they play having to come back from behind when it matters in a knock-out stage.

  • Comment number 8.

    Also don't forget that the city was founded by a Welsh businessman, John Hughes, and the city was also originally called after a Ukrainian approximation of his name. Well, I always found this interesting.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hugo Almeida starting for Portugal :(

  • Comment number 10.

    Donetsk is a fantastic city, a lot more cosmopolitan than most people expect. Having been to 3 games there it was a shame that only England brought some actual fans to the game and the fans enjoyed themselves immensely it seems. It was just a shame that certain BBC journalists and others decided to try and ruin the tournament before it had even started by trying to further their own careers with exaggerated lies and nonsense. It's a shame no-one at the BBC, in particular the odious careerist David Bond, has had the guts to apologise and admit they got it wrong.

  • Comment number 11.

    10 - spot on. Has there been one incident of racist trouble for a spectator in the entire tournament? The whole thing was just a ploy to get people to go to the London Olympics instead.

  • Comment number 12.

    white people talking about a lack of racism. quelle surprise.

  • Comment number 13.

    Number 10 - Totally agree. The BBC should apologise for the biased coverage the Panorama programme made towards Ukraine and Poland. Yes they managed to find some racist incidents at games which I in no-way condone, however I am sure you can find similar things happening just as frequently on the terraces of Italy and a number of other Western European countries. The programme made out it was a unique phenomenon to the host nations which it most certainly is not. It also massively over-egged the problem with the Sol Campbell nonsense about black people "coming home in a box". Out of interest, can the BBC actually do some unbiased investigation and tell us how many non-white people have been Assaulted (nevermind killed) in Ukraine during this tournament as a result of racially aggravated attacks?

  • Comment number 14.

    Good blog Steve by the way.

  • Comment number 15.

    see no evil. hear no evil.

  • Comment number 16.

    It's strange because most if not all of the reported racist incidents came from Spanish, Russian and Croatian fans. I don't recall one from UKraine. Only the one in Poland when the Dutch were training. I hope Ukraine can move forward as a footballing nation. In the U19s Euros in 2009 we won it, beat England 2-0 in the final. Those youngsters now need to come through.

  • Comment number 17.

    16 - The future looks bright for the Ukrainian team with excellent young players like Konoplyanka, Butko, Bezus and Yarmolenko. I went to watch the Ukraine Under-21s play Sweden Under-21s at Obolon Arena and they were absolutely fantastic and won 6-0. Some great football on show. But they need to learn consistency, as shown by a disappointing 1-0 defeat in Lithuania off the back of that Sweden result.

  • Comment number 18.

    Should be very good match tomorrow night. With the way both sides have been playing so far I would put Portugal as slight favourites against Spain. Portugal have been getting better and better and show they can score lots of goals. Spain are also playing good but not been scoring much goals but have a strong defence.

  • Comment number 19.

    @17 - Yes they are promising players. Kono and Yarmo are being looked at by top clubs. I fear we don't have anyone to replace Shevchenko though. I also fear we have lost some of the other players from 2009 like Korkishko, although am glad Garmash is making it forward he is a very promising midfielder. Aliev should also get more games.

  • Comment number 20.

    12. At 21:47 26th Jun 2012, plath wrote:
    white people talking about a lack of racism. quelle surprise.

    And you know for a fact that these people who are commenting on the lack of racism in Donetsk are all white?

    #10 & #11 have it spot on. I can not remember reading of a single incident of a travelling supporter being racially abused by a Ukrainian during the entire duration of this tournament. Yet of course the BBC and the likes of Sol Campbell would have you believe that any non-white supporters were, quote: "likely to come home in a box".

    If this tournament were being held in Italy, where similar isolated incidents of racial abuse unfortunately creep up on the terraces from time to time, there would have been no suggestion of their right to host the tournament. The suggestion that Ukraine wasn't fit to do so was a smear on the vast majority of decent, racially tolerant Ukrainians

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Looking forward to the semi's. Although disappointed England aren't there, it's good to have the 4 best teams making it through and no surprise they're from the 2 difficult groups. Would love to see Portugal go all the way but just think Spain will stifle Ronaldo and he'll get too frustrated

  • Comment number 23.

    white people talking about a lack of racism. quelle surprise.

    People are merely stating that there has been nothing close to the levels of racism shown in the BBC documentary. You are implying that all white people take the stance you have mentioned based on a couple of comments, which is more ridiculous than the point you are trying to make. Furthermore what do you expect, people are going to form their opinions based on what they have seen and heard... It's not misguided, it's natural. And in this case - bearing in mind the heightened media awareness of the issue of racism in football in the Ukraine and Poland, and thus the willingness to expose it further - they are accurate opinions.

  • Comment number 24.

    Russia have now been fined three times in three matches, all included Fans with "Illicit Banners", fans throwing fireworks on the pitch etc...... This does not include the racism still present in Russia with Bananas being thrown on the pitch, waving bananas and making monkey should the Russian FA be punished.

    World Cup 2018.

    Absolutely pathetic and has $£€ and OIL written all over it.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    They have a great football team, from what I have seen play attractive attacking football.
    There must be a real sense of disappointment with Ukraines early exit.

  • Comment number 27.

    The BBC Panorama reporter needs to be investigated. Poor silly Sol Campbell was led to believe all that he saw on the programme. I'm sure that the Panorama programme scared many thousands of Brits into not going. So sad and unneccessary but I guess the reporter had to justify the expense of sending him and the team over there!

  • Comment number 28.

    At most of you. It wasn't the Panorama programme that disuaded many fans from going, it was the fact that the hoteliers hiked the prices of their rooms to ten times the original price.

  • Comment number 29.

    @ plath: Would you like some fish to go with that massive chip on your shoulder?

    Essentially you are generalising all white people as racist. Does that not make you that which you so despise? You've made a prejudgement based on a person's skin colour, which is a racist view if I'm not mistaken.

    @ #24: I'm in full agreement with you on that one.

  • Comment number 30.

    plath: Having been all ovef Ukraine during the tournament I can tell you there were plenty of black and Asian fans who had no problem, some I know personally.

    #27 - I'm not sure why 'Brits' would be going to Ukraine as only England qualified. We are English

  • Comment number 31.

    Good to see Alex Capstick's basic but complimentary piece about Donetsk on the BBC World News channel. Too little too late in terms of rebuilding the BBC's reputation but at least some backtracking in this way might sooth things a little.

  • Comment number 32.

    I very much doubt that the "Beeb" will publish this, but here goes. I'm a "brown british" guy who spent 5 days in Donetsk (and another 5 in Kiev) for the football, and it was a truly wonderful experience. The people were lovely and friendly, and quite frankly the City was MUCH better looking than many parts of England, that's for sure!! The BBC has let itself down big time with the negative, biased reporting of Ukraine. The panorama programme was lazy journalism, and it has massively tainted the Beeb's reputation. I've now boycotted bbc news (aside from today, when I specifically jumped on the site to write this). Poor form BBC, very poor form.

  • Comment number 33.

    Larache123 - Good to read your comments and to know that you did not experience any racial problems. Just looking back to the Panorama programme - did you not think it strange that the BBC camera recording the alleged attack on the Asians stayed so far away and did not get any close-up shots? Then when one of the Asians was later interviewed about the attack I expected him to have cuts and bruises all over his face but instead all we saw a few pieces of tissue stuffed up his nose!! All VERY strange.

  • Comment number 34.

    I have no proof of the following but it was what I was told when I was in Kharkiv: The locals told me the BBC crew filmed twice at Metalist Stadium since they didn't get the footage they wanted the first time.

    So, yeah, take it all with a pinch of salt, eh?

  • Comment number 35.

    @Tsarevich Long time no see online. Shame we missed the chance to meet up in Ukraine. Wembley?

  • Comment number 36.

    Think they did a great job, and surely the stadium(s) doesnt become a white elephants like so many, for example in cape town. For the the story itself , is a bit cliche and obvious, what was ( drab and dirty etc, where was the charm?);
    anecdotal evidence from stadiums and neighborhoods, not to mention hotels in the uk which can be an experience can be written in comparable style, everywhere there is room for improvement, but is that the right way?

  • Comment number 37.

    I enjoyed my trip out to Ukraine following England. I am mixed race but can't say I experienced any hassles at all. In fact the locals went out of their way to be welcoming; it was their big chance to show off their country to the world. It was also interesting to note that the Ukrainians themselves aren't exactly a homogenous race - some look like Nordic types, others could pass for Turkish. There were surprising numbers of Black and Asian students too. Maybe things would be different without the tournament but I didn't get the impression there was ongoing racial tension.

    That said, I don't think the rather sensationalist BBC piece put people off going - they would have booked already by the time of the broadcast, if they were going. The high reported cost of accommodation was off-putting, but we gambled and found places to stay at much reduced prices once we got out there - from a boat in Kiev for £20 a head, to a family apartment (they moved in with their mum!) in Donetsk for £130 a night between three of us. All in all, it was a really enjoyable time in Ukraine.

  • Comment number 38. look please

  • Comment number 39.

    Been very disappointed with spains performances in the euros so far. Read this blog earlier. kinda sums it up for me

  • Comment number 40.


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