This Friday match Shakhtar Donetsk vs Dynamo Kyiv will be the first Ukrainian Derby of the Ukrainian Premier League season. To say that Shakhtar are actually hosting the match is, of course, misleading—the club are entering their third full season of exile, as the Donbass War shows little sign of coming to an end.
Shakhtar have made the Arena Lviv their indefinite home, but this match will take place at Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium. While Shakhtar generally received solid support from the locals in Lviv for European matches, general attendances have been low. Moreover, for their encounters against Dynamo at Arena Lviv, the partisan crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Dynamo in their support.
This came as no surprise—Dynamo are far and away the most popular clubs in the country, and historically fans of Karpaty in Lviv and Dynamo have had a friendly relationship. Nevertheless, it is entirely understandable why Shakhtar would feel aggrieved by this state of affairs and seek an alternative.
They settled on Kharkiv, a city much closer to Donetsk both geographically as well as culturally. The club is expecting a far more welcoming atmosphere. Brazilian winger Marlos, who spent three season at Metalist, stated “I believe that on September 9 the public will support us more than Dynamo.”
Retired striker Andriy Vorobey, a Shakhtar legend who spent over 10 years at the club, shared similar sentiments. He told the club’s official website:
“Who will the public prefer? It is difficult for me to say. In Kharkiv there are supporters of both Shakhtar and Dynamo. But it seems to me that for the hirnyki this option is better, because in Lviv the stadium would have supported Dynamo. But in Kharkiv there is hope that the Donetsk team will receive more support.”
The other noteworthy aspect of the venue selection is that the city of Kharkiv no longer has its own Premier League club following the dissolution of Metalist Kharkiv at the end of last season. While two new amateur clubs have been founded since then, this is the first time in the last 12 season that the city has been left without top flight football.
“I don’t know if the match will sell out, but the local supporters have definitely missed good football,” Vorobey added.
As for the football itself, this is an excellent opportunity for Shakhtar to take an early six-point lead in the table. Shakhtar suffered an early disappointment after blowing a 2-0 aggregate lead against Swiss side Young Boys and will miss out on the Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign. Their form in the league thus far has been perfect, however, as they have collected six victories from their first six matches.
Dynamo secured automatic passage to the group stage after winning the UPL last season but their league form has been unconvincing. They fell behind in each of the last three matches, and while they were able to salvage three points against Volyn Lutsk and Stal Kamianske, last weekend against Vorskla Poltava they suffered a 2-0 victory at home.
With a victory in front of what they hope will be a supportive crowd on Friday, Shakhtar could make an emphatic statement of intent and pull away early in the title race.