Civil war in Ukraine and the Europa league

Dynamo Kyiv ultras

Dynamo Kyiv ultras have formed self-defence units to protect protestors on Kyiv’s main square

This blog is normally about Poland but it’s difficult to stay silent about the very worrying developments in Poland’s Eastern neighbours Ukraine as state-led violence rains down on protesters striving for a more democratic society.  As the dead bodies pile up (on both sides) in Kyiv, tonight four Ukrainian sides are to take the field in the Europa League, three of the matches take place on Ukrainian soil (that of Dynamo Kyiv, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Chornomorets Odessa) and one (that of Shakhtar Donetsk) will go ahead in the Czech Republic.  Should these matches take place in light of what’s happening in the nation’s capital?  Doesn’t this laugh in the face of those who are suffering?

First of all we have to understand that the situation in the different cities in which the matches take place is very different.  The centre of Kyiv has in the space of several days turned into a war zone, with flames lighting the streets, snipers on roof-tops, and people being murdered in cold blood.  In light of this it was never an option for Dynamo Kyiv’s match with Valencia to go ahead, as Dynamo’s stadium is very close to where the violence is happening.  Yesterday UEFA confirmed that the match would take place in Cyprus instead.

Other cites in Ukraine have been affected rather differently.  In the West revolutionaries have taken security and police buildings without much of a fight.  In the East and South however the government has held firm and it is here where the other two matches played tonight will take place.  In Dnipropetrovsk where Tottenham will play tonight the situation was tense three weeks ago when protestors attempted to take government buildings but control was re-assumed and it has remained relatively quiet since.    In Odessa in the South where Olympic Lyonnais will play there has been little stirrings of opposition against government forces.  In both cities there is little immediate security danger regarding the matches taking place.

What has UEFA’s position been towards the violence?  UEFA moved relatively quickly to move the Dynamo-Valencia match to Cyprus but apart from statements regarding the ‘monitoring of the situation’ they do not seem to be doing much more.  There have not been any public statements that any of the matches could not go ahead in response to the developing political situation.  On the one side this is understandable from UEFA as it tries to adapt to a rapidly shifting situation in Ukraine, it’s also typical of UEFA not to take quick actions regarding the intersection of football and politics as has been seen in issues of racist incidents on the football field.

In terms of the clubs involved in tonight’s fixtures there has been a deafening silence.  Spurs’ Twitter feed is full of smiling faces of players as they await tonight’s game, and tweets such as ‘Tim Sherwood knows we’ll have to be at our best to bring home a positive result tonight #COYS.’  The only announcement from the club has been to warn fans who will have to pass through Kyiv in order to get to Dnipropetrovsk.  A club spokesman said:

“The team is there, they have had their press conference. As it stands there is no indication it would not go ahead’

and

‘It has been widely publicised recently that the political situation in Ukraine has led to many demonstrations; particularly in the city of Kiev and those fans that are travelling via Kiev should take extra care. You should avoid all demonstrations and public gatherings as even peaceful protests can be unpredictable.

“We are aware that a number of our fans will travel to Dnipropetrovsk via Kiev and you should take extra care when in public areas and if travelling by train, keep all your belongings together and in sight at all times.

So it seems that Spurs are taking as a-political tone as possible, i.e trying to help their supporters and hope the match will go ahead. Olympique Lyonnais seem to be even less concerned about what’s happening in Ukraine.  Their twitter feed has posted happy pictures of their players in luxurious Odessa hotels and their official website has an article about the team’s tour of the city’s tourist attractions.

Olympic

Olympique Lyonnais’s players posing at their hotel in Odessa

Source: Olympique Lyonnais’ Twitter feed

All this sits uncomfortably with the bloody events taking place on the streets of the nation’s capital.  Of course I understand the difficult position the clubs are in.  Football is known in general for its apolitical stance so it’s no surprise that the clubs have not taken a stand regarding tonight’s matches.  Possibly they are waiting for a sign from UEFA, but that sign is unlikely to come. Unfortunately as is so often the case in terms of sport, a moral imperative is quite simply lacking.  Spurs will take the field tonight in Dnipropetrovsk as flames continue to envelop the streets of Kyiv.  In my mind the matches should simply not take place at all.

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10 thoughts on “Civil war in Ukraine and the Europa league

  1. An interesting context in the Ukrainian protests is the role of Ultras. Traditionally violently opposed to each other, Ukrainian clubs’ hardcore fans have agreed a truce for the duration of the revolution. And of course, many Ultras are providing heavy-duty protection for the euromaidan protesters.
    Dnipro fans have announced that, as a mark of respect, the first 15 mins of the game will be marked by silence.
    I’m not sure, given the location of the other matches – Dnipro and Odesa – that cancelling them or moving them out of Ukraine is necessarily imperative. The fact that these games will be held does not bring any additional legitimacy to the Ukrainian government while the fans, it seems, will do their best to draw attention to the victims’ and Ukraine’s fate.

  2. It will be interesting to see if there are any protests in Odessa. While the games themselves are geographically removed from the protests in Kyiv, I’m distinctly uncomfortable with football going on regardless. Judging from today’s events, it’s murder, not politics, that’s happening on the streets of the capital.

    • Yeah, I wonder if there will be any in Odessa, expecting some in Dnipro anyway. Been good news in the last half an hour about some sort of negotiated settlement. Hope there is one and quickly. Just found out that a friend of mine’s friend has been killed. All very sad.

      • Very sorry to hear that. My girlfriend lives in Pechersk and is stuck inside listening to gunshots while her neighbours board up their windows. As I type, the news is saying 100 people have been shot today alone. Horrific.

  3. Useful summary of the state of the country. I don’t think the situation is helped by football in Ukraine being on the winter break. If the national league had been interrupted it would make it easier to challenge UEFA.
    Would be useful to compare what happened to the Champions League in Yugoslavia 20 years ago. I’m sure I’ve read plenty on this topic in The Blizzard.

    • Hi Steve. Cheers for the comment. Yep, have been thinking all day of other big games that have been disrupted (or not) in times of war/civil war. Many people have been talking about the famous Lechia Gdańsk-Juventus match which went ahead during Martial law. I’m sure similar things happened during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Interesting point about the league having a break – this game comes at a strange time for football in the country.

  4. Something else that happened in Ukrainian football over the winter break, last week in fact, is that Arsenal Kyiv have been kicked out of the league. They were having financial problems before this, but I suspect their situation can’t have been helped by the fact that they use the Dynamo Stadium as their home ground, which remains a battleground as it is located between Maidan and the govt quarter. Dynamo Kyiv play at the Olympic stadium and they’re supposed to be at home to Shakhtar Donetsk on 2 March, so we’ll see if that really can go ahead.

    • Yeah I heard about the Arsenal Kyiv situation. Shame. Definitely will be interesting to see what happens when the league starts up again. Some good news tonight regarding the outlawing of the use of arms at least. Something to go to bed to with a bit of hope.

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