Football was the most popular sport in Ukraine during the Soviet era. After the revolution and the civil war in the 1920s, the Bolsheviks encouraged people to play football and Ukraine became a powerhouse of Soviet soccer.
Dynamo Kyiv became one of the strongest teams in Europe. Euronews went to the Dynamo school to see if, 20 years after independence, it is still the workshop of champions.
“The difference is that they have good conditions for doing sport, playing football. We didn’t have that. When I started training, I was playing with a tin can, not a ball. After the war, we didn’t even have food. These guys have everything, but they might lack the character to be the best among their peers and among others,” says youth coach Vitaliy Khmelnytsky.
One of Ukrainian’s biggest football stars was Oleg Blokhin, the Dynamo striker who defeated Bayern Munich in 1975 in the Super Cup final. That victory is still seen as a major sporting achievement in Ukraine. He is now the Ukrainian national team’s coach and the Soviet Premier League’s all-time top scorer with 211 goals.
“During the Soviet era, there were many Olympic champions from Ukraine in different kinds of sports. The USSR national team was mainly Ukrainians for the last 30-40 years. Now it’s not the same. Maybe because youngsters have everything and other things distract kids from football,” says Khmelnytsky.
Fozzie is a singer with TNMK, one of the most famous hip-hop bands in Ukraine. He says he gets inspiration from football.
“I think the attitude to football is the only thing that hasn’t changed in 20 years in Ukraine. Football was the most popular sport in Ukraine, the most popular social phenomenon, and it still is. So, the same as 20 years ago, all men are interested in football. The country has changed, but the attitude to football – no. It is the same.
“Euro 2012 is historically, the first time that Ukraine – and I hope not the last time – that the country had a deadline to do something, because in the tradition of the Soviet lies everybody was saying ‘Elect us and then, later everything will be good’. Now for the first time, they said that by June 1st, 2012, we will have built the roads. They have been built fast, but they have been built. This is the first deadline in the history of Ukraine,“ he says.
But the winner of the first Ukrainian Premiere League championship after the split from the USSR was Crimea’s Tavryia Simferopol, which beat Dynamo Kyiv in the final in 1992. How about Ukraine’s European competitiveness?
“Ukrainians are a Cossack nation and they don’t like losing. Ukrainians want and have a habit of being first. So I would say that the Ukraine national team will be a threat to European football teams,” says Khmelnytsky.
Andryi Shevchenko is the Ukrainian national team’s best striker. He had to leave his village when he was nine because it was near Chernobyl. He has never played with a tin can, but his childhood was not easy either.
He went on to glory and riches in Italian and English football, and now he hopes to be a part of a Ukrainian team that at last makes its mark on the international stage. We will see this summer.