In the end, they opted for Christmas Orange

Both Shakhtar (Rinat Akhmetov) and Kiev (Hryhoriy Surkis) are owned by government backers and are part of the old way of doing business. Simon Kuper, who chronicles in Football against the Enemy (chap. 6, “Rulers of the Ukraine,” 52–65) the shady dealings at Dynamo, writes recently in a more optimistic vein that changes in the Dec 26 election could mean more transparency for Ukrainian sport (“Establishment Club in Fear of Ukraine’s Protesters,” Financial Times, Dec 18). He notes that some Ukrainian athletes, particularly boxer Vitali Klitschko, have broken the linkage between sportsmen and sportswomen and the old Soviet apparatus (on Klitschko, see Peter Wilson, “Boxers in the Orange Corner,” The Australian, Dec 24). European player of the year Andriy Shevchenko of AC Milan, it is true, had appeared on government channel 1+1 backing Yanukovich. But he was greeted at the San Siro in the Champions League match against Donetsk with signs reading, “Shevchenko, your political choice made your country cry.”

Propaganda and Soviet sport have long been partners. One of football’s most notorious myths is that of the “Match of Death” in 1942 between German occupiers and Dynamo players. The latter, allegedly informed at the interval that they would be shot if victorious, nevertheless prevailed 5–3 and, according to the Soviet-era legend, were summarily executed. The facts, exposed over time by local historians and by novelist Anatoli Kuznetsov in Babi Yar, and published in definitive form in Andy Dougan‘s Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev (Fourth Estate, 2001), tell a different tale. Dynamo footballers played several matches as a team named “Start,” regularly defeating opponents when not working at a Kiev bakery. In the so-called Death Match, they did beat a German side, but there were no reprisals. James Riordan (“The Match of Death: Kiev, 9 August 1942,” Soccer & Society [spring 2003]: 87–93) writes: “[A]mid the carnage and dreadful inhumanity of war, bitter foes played football. They played fairly and with respect for each other. They shook hands and then went off to resume the war” (90).

Dynamo Kyiv, 1942

Tragically, the Dynamo players who did survive the war were treated as pariahs for having played against and allegedly cooperated with the German occupiers. Some, however—certainly the Jewish goalkeeper, Abram Gorinstein—were killed at Babi Yar, among some 45,000 murdered at the ravine outside Kiev. And Ukrainians as a whole bore the brunt of losses in the European conflict, suffering between 12 million and 15 million fatalities. As historian Vladimir Mayevsky remarks in the DVD collection History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game, “People died, and let the land be soft for them.”

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2 comments on this post.
  1. The Global Game | Coal mining, football and other former Soviet spheres of influence:

    [...] especially given its ability in recent years to afford players from abroad. See our report of 26 Dec 04. [...]

  2. Richard Bachynsky Hoover:

    I am a film producer and want to develop this heroic story of Dynamo’s fate into an authentic film shot in Kiev.

    I’m now in Kiev seeking investors for this great story!

    I too am of Ukrainian roots myself as well an actor hailing from Toronto, Canada.

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