Ukraine | Coal mining, football and other former Soviet spheres of influence

Within the textured, contested, sad depths of Ukrainian history, few political gestures go unexegeted in a Talmudic-like zeal for obscure associations and hidden meaning. Such occurred following prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s Dec 23 visit to perennially troubled Zasyadko mine in eastern Donetsk, where 101 coal miners died in a Nov 18 explosion (Veronica Khokhlova, “Yulia Tymoshenko and Coal Miners,” Global Voices Online, Dec 25).

Tymoshenko, in her second term as prime minister following the Orange Revolution of Nov 04, was quoted as having said: “[We] will make it so that in our country both young people and children would want to become coal miners.” This helped fuel a regional bloggers’ quarrel, as translated on Global Voices, about whether coal mining was a more honorable or safer profession under Soviet control. One comment refers to the long-standing hazards of the business and possible Soviet obfuscation about earlier accidents and about the 1979 airline crash that killed 17 members of FC Pakhtakor.


You better remember football broadcasts from Donetsk. The tracks around the field were packed with wheelchairs.

Then they banned these wheelchairs, too.

As for the accidents, no one was reporting on them in the USSR—well, perhaps they did once, when the plane carrying Tashkent “Pakhtakor” crashed. They had to somehow explain to the people where the old players disappeared and why the backup team members were playing instead.

Shakhtar Donetsk, in its distinctive orange kit, has long been a force in Ukrainian and European football, especially given its ability in recent years to afford players from abroad (see 26 Dec 04). During an unveiling Dec 5 of a new team crest, the club’s roots in the region—“Shakhtar” means “coal miner”—were recognized in the graphic design and in the spectacle of its presentation. Said the designer of an earlier crest, Viktor Savilov:

How the idea was born? I just wanted use the peculiarities of our region—the coal mines—as a basis for the crest. And then I had this idea to perform a football split into two halves by a football field surface. The lower part symbolised coal mines. That was the main idea.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. [...] black shorts said to symbolize the shift workers emerging from the antiquated coal piles (see also 28 Dec 07). While United players chatted and sent tactical information in Russian, however, Shakhtar’s [...]

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