Anatoly Kuznetsov and Dynamo Kyiv’s ‘almost incredible’ story

Vlad Lavrov, writer for the Kyiv Post, says that the event raises the possibility of visa-free travel to Europe—valuable for a country, unlike Poland, outside the European Union.

Yet Ukraine’s co-hosting status remains perilous, with Michel Platini‘s May visit producing only tepid endorsement of Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv and Donetsk as Euro cities. Dnipropetrovs’k and Odessa were eliminated from consideration and Nov 30 set as UEFA’s next check on Ukraine’s progress on stadiums and infrastructure improvements.

Writer Yury Olesha claims to have been present at the dawn of football in Odessa early in the 20th century. But the first Ukrainian football demonstration dates to 1892 in Lviv, once part of Poland. And while Kuznetsov reconstructs the wartime Dynamo legend—preserved in statuary and in memory such that Babi Yar became known as the place “where the footballers were shot”—the story bypasses more stunning narratives of Jewish footballers who perished in what has been called the “Holocaust by bullets.”

Nadworna soccer team Memorial list of Nadworna soccer players, in Yiddish, in the order provided above: Berger, Uzi Bartfeld, Maks Brumberger, Simeon Diamond, Moniv Hamburger, Yosef Fuchs, Yehoshua Fisher, Natan Ratsprecher, Shaya Rothfeld, Boniv Rothstein, Moshe Rothstein, Shlomo Bitkower, Maks

Let this be among the first pleas for Euro 2012 organizers to honor the footballers of Nadworna, Ukraine, a shtetl in eastern Galicia—now part of western Ukraine—north of the Carpathian Mountains. Jews lived in Ukraine before the word “Ukraine” came into existence, notes Anna Reid. By the time of the Nazi invasion, Ukraine’s Jewish population numbered three million. Of the 5.3 million Ukrainians who died in World War II, 2.25 million were Jews.

Fr. Patrick Desbois after eight years of research estimates that 1.5 million died from Nazi bullets in mass executions, of which Babi Yar outside Kyiv is the most notorious example. He and the ecumenical association Yahad-In Unum have located more than 500 mass graves and recorded video testimony from close to 800 survivors. Some recall how the slayings became so routine that Einsatzgruppen firing squads would play a gramophone or suck on mints as the work progressed. Children played at games of “shooting Jews.”

Bella Knoll, in “Memories from Nadworna,” recalls before her emigration to Palestine in 1935 how Ukrainian anti-Semitism tainted community life between the wars. Jews, Poles and Ukrainians had separate football teams. Matches took place on Sundays on a field adjoining the River Bishchitza.

If it happened that our team won then the Ukrainians would beat us for it. On this particular Sunday I went to watch the football match and when in the end our team won—how pleased I was!

On our way home we had to cross a narrow bridge over the river. We were walking together with the Jewish team. Suddenly, there pounced upon us some Ukrainian boys; they caught one of the boys from our team and wanted to drown him in the river. As it happened this particular boy was from the Berger family. Now in this family there were more sons, brothers of the boy who had been attacked. The whole family worked as wagoners, and the boys were strong-built and brave and had strong Jewish feelings. They did not hesitate to return blow for blow when attacked by the “goyim” and they quickly rescued their brother from his attackers.

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