The Ukrainian Premier League was regarded as the fifth most coefficient league in the world according to UEFA, but it has now slumped to eighth following the impact of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine crisis.
The 2013-14 UPL season’s winter break was expanded by two more weeks, as Crimea was taken control of by Russian separatists and later reclaimed by Russia.
Due to the reclamation of Crimea the two Crimean teams of the UPL, Tavirya Simferopol (now TSK Simferopol) and Sevastopol (SKChF Sevastopol) withdrew from the UPL and applied under new names to the Russian FA for participation in their league system, along with a third Crimea based team Zhemchuzhina Yalta. Their applications were all successful and will all begin their Russian football campaigns in the cup this week.
The teams have encountered issues over player’s eligibility to participate in the third tier, as ‘legionaries’ – as foreign players are known within Russian football – aren’t allowed. This also left two free spaces in the UPL, as well as a third space which opened up after Arsenal Kiev went under administration and were subsequently expelled from the League.
Olimpik Donetsk filled one space and the league agreed to reduce the number of participants this year to just 14, rather than last year’s 16.
The warfare spread to eastern Ukraine, which has affected even more teams. Zorya Luhansk, Newly promoted Olimpik Donetsk, Champions Shakhtar Donetsk and Metalurgh Donetsk have all been forced to relocate due to the unrest.
Zorya host Feyenoord in a Europa league qualifying round second leg, which they will play in Kiev; a bigger stadium, but it bound to be practically empty bar the Zorya Luhansk locals, who will have to travel 800 kilometres to watch the game.
Fans from across Europe will be reluctant to travel to Ukraine due to unrest, even if the conflict is over a hundred of miles away. Therefore, there is unlikely to be the pyro-embraced scenes eastern Europe is so famous for in the game, although there may be slightly more promising attendances for Dnipro v Hajduk Split and Metalist v Ruch in the Europa league.
A news report showed an air-strike had damaged a block of flats in Donetsk, only to unveil the iconic Orange and Black room of a Shakhtar fan amongst the conflict. Nobody knows what happened to this fan, but we do know about the tragic MH17 disaster, in which a flight from Netherlands to Malaysia was allegedly shot down by Russian separatists in which all of the 298 people on board lost their lives.
Those on-board included Newcastle fans Liam Sweeney, 28, and 63-year-old John Alder. Respect was paid to them through a minutes silence, black arm bands and wreaths being presented before the Newcastle game on Sunday, as Newcastle’s campaign commenced. The pair’s lives were cut short while on their way to watch a pre-season game – they followed Newcastle United home and away, in an competitions.
Despite a performance Sweeney and Alder would have been content with from Newcastle, during their 2-0 loss to reigning premier league champions Manchester City, Newcastle’s new signing Facundo Ferreyra, who arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk on a season long loan, was not in the squad.
The Argentinian completed his move to the Magpies after him and six other Shakhtar players refused to return to Ukraine following a pre-season friendly. Torniqe Okriashvili secured a move to Genk, while the other five – Douglas Costa, Fred (no, not the one who was useless for Brazil at the World Cup), Dentinho, Alex Teixiera and Ismaily – have now begun training, but this hasn’t stopped speculation, especially that circulating about arguably the most valuable member of the group, Douglas Costa, who has been linked to Manchester United.
Shakhtar have added to their Brazilian powered title winning machine by adding Marcio Azeveido and Marlos, both from Metalist Kharkiv, to their roster as well as Oleksandr Hladkyi, who joined on a free transfer from Dnipro, which boosts the amount of home-grown talent in their squad.
The champions have relocated to Arena Lyiv, which is over 600 miles away from the 50,000-seater Donbass arena, the usual home to Shakhtar, which now sits deserted, with posters from last season still stuck up around the area.
On August 23, two explosions rattled the north-western facade of the now abandoned stadium, but luckily there were no casualties. Being on a game day, this is a real eye-opener and shows just how dangerous the area is and why Shakhtar chose to relocate, to ensure the safety of their fans and staff.
Shakhtar have sent medication to those in the warzone, while certain players who have set-up by their new makeshift training ground in Kiev claim they miss Donetsk.
2018 World Cup
In a future with no peace and prosperity on the horizon, Sepp Blatter has ensured Russia’s president Vladimir Putin that Russia are backed by FIFA to host the 2018 world cup.
The competition has spurred the production of new stadiums and Russia FA insist the fighting won’t affect the World Cup’s fluency, similarly to how the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics wasn’t fazed by the conflict. While this is four years away, at the end of the 2014/15 season the European Super Cup is hosted in Dinamo Tbilisi’s Olympic Stadium in Georgia, which is likely to be unfilled if the conflict is still ongoing.
Fans from Europe’s top footballing countries, who are likely to play a part in the match, will have to fly over Ukraine, which I’m sure will put off some fans from attending the match.
The Ukrainian Premier League is an exciting league filled with Ukrainian national team players, such as Andriy Yarmolenko, Andriy Pyatov and Yevhen Konoplyanka, as well as ‘legionaries’ from Brazil including Bernard, Taison and Fernando, with other foreign players such as Alejandro Gomez, Jose Sosa, Darijo Srna, Dieumerci Mbokani, Aleksandar Dragovic, Jemaine Lens, Younes Belhanda and Miguel Veloso – it has its fair share of talent spread throughout the league.
However, with the league’s reputation and stability damaged due to the crisis, this season will prove an important year in Ukrainian Football history.