Sergio Gallardo

SHAKHTAR

DONETSK

A club ravaged by war

Shakhtar Donetsk are in a waking nightmare. Because of the Russian invasion, playing football in Ukraine has become a downright odyssey.

After more than six months of war with Russia, Shakhtar have had to leave their city because of the fighting. They don’t train or play in Donetsk.

Shakhtar regularly train in Warsaw, Poland, 1,000 miles from Donetsk. The club are playing European home matches at Legia Warsaw’s stadium.

For Ukrainian league matches, meanwhile, Shakhtar have had to get on a plane and train in Kyiv or Lviv for a few days before the game.

So far, they’ve played three home league matches. Two at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, and one at Arena Lviv.

Ukraine's conflict with Russia is tenser than ever. For their safety, it seems Shakhtar will only play in Lviv from now on. It’s close to the Polish border and 760 miles from Donetsk. 

Football in Ukraine and Russia has been devastated. Hundreds of players have left, after FIFA approved a measure allowing them to move clubs right away.

Twenty members of Shakhtar’s 2021/22 first-team squad have left, either permanently or on loan.

Shakhtar usually have several Brazilians in their ranks, but the likes of Marco Antonio, Ismaili, Dodo and Marlon have gone to France or Italy.

To make up for the raft of exits, 25 players have come in. Of the 29 men in Shakhtar’s squad, all are Ukrainian except four: a Brazilian, a Croat, a Nigerian and a Burkinab√©.

As for the fans, they’re not allowed to attend games. There’s an air-raid shelter under half a mile from the stadiums if there’s an attack.

Shakhtar’s strength of character has been laudable - as have their results. They’re unbeaten in all competitions, with four wins and two draws.

“Football helps in the toughest moments,” says Shakhtar’s Spanish fitness coach Daniel De Castro. “We forget everything for 90 minutes.”

The team bus toured Ukraine’s battered cities with a clear message: “Stop war. Stand with Ukraine.” The players don’t appear to have been on board.

Now there’s another problem: Donetsk is part of Ukraine for the rest of the world, but the result of Putin’s illegal referendum says it belongs to Russia.

Other Ukrainian league teams are in the same situation, such as Zorya Luhansk. Third-tier Krystal Kherson, too.

Uncertainty reigns. What’s going to happen to Shakhtar? Donetsk is a war zone and the club’s future is unknown, both on and off the field.