After near-misses the past two seasons, in September Zorya Luhansk will take part in their first ever UEFA Europa League group stage campaign. Despite their prolonged exile due to the war in the Donbass, Zorya are currently going through their best period in the history since the independence of Ukraine.
They have finished fourth in each of the past two seasons, and as a result of FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk’s ban from European competitions fourth place was enough to secure automatic passage into the group stage of the Europa League. Where they will actually play their home matches is, however, yet to be determined.
Zorya are currently based at the Slavutych-Arena in Zaporizhya, but because the stadium lacks the required turnstiles—among other deficiencies—it was not approved by UEFA for use in the Europa League. In fact, there are only three UEFA-approved stadiums in all of Ukraine: the NSK Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv, Chornomorets Stadium in Odesa, and Arena Lviv. The latter is currently being used as the home ground of Shakhtar Donetsk.
Zorya therefore registered NSK Olimpiyskiy, where Dynamo Kyiv are based, as their home stadium for the Europa League campaign. The general director of Zorya, Serhiy Rafailov, claims that this was done only after a verbal agreement between the Zorya and Dynamo presidents that the latter would not object to this arrangement.
Zorya then contacted the management of NSK Olimpiyskiy to make formal plans for their Europa League matches. Even though Dynamo do not own the stadium, they do have exclusive rights to host matches, however. Zorya therefore sent a letter to the capital club formally requesting the use of the stadium.
Surprisingly, Dynamo refused the request, citing damage to the pitch as their primary concern. In response, Rafailov penned an open letter addressed to the presidents of Dynamo Kyiv, the Ukrainian Premier League, the Football Federation of Ukraine, and the country—as well as to the prime minister and to all supporters, media, and the entire football society. Rafailov explained the situation and asked all parties to “assist in the positive resolution of the situation and to make a decision in the interests of Ukrainian football.”
Rafailov also pointed out that two seasons ago FC Dnipro shared NSK Olimpiyskiy with Dynamo during their Europa League campaigns with no conflict.
In an interview with SportArena, Rafailov declared that there are no alternatives to NSK Olimpiyskiy. When asked to clarify what would happen if Dynamo did not reverse their decision, he said “then Zorya will not play in the Europa league.”
Rafailov later denied making those statements and said that Zorya would seek other solutions if necessary. Furthermore, Rafailov has become embroiled in a war of words with prominent Ukrainian football journalist Artem Frankov, who said that Zorya’s problems are not Dynamo’s fault.
Rafailov accused Frankov of mudslinging and also highlighted the fact that Dynamo are currently in the group stages of the Champions League because of contributions to the country’s overall coefficient made by other Ukrainian clubs. He emphasized the importance of prioritizing the interests not just of one club, but of all of Ukrainian football.
As for Dynamo’s role in this conflict, the club have remained silent since their official refusal of Zorya’s request. There are still almost two months left until the start of Zorya’s inaugural Europa League campaign, and even if Dynamo do not change their stance the Chornomorets Stadium in Odesa is a viable option. The fact that this controversy has even emerged, however, poorly reflects on the image of Ukrainian football, regardless of which party one believes to be blameworthy.