Sep 15, 2022 - Sports

The nomadic Ukrainian soccer club playing home games in Poland

Map: Jared Whalen/Axios
Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk earned a critical Champions League point on Wednesday, drawing 1-1 with Scottish club Celtic.

State of play: Though this was designated a Shakhtar "home" game, it was played nearly 1,000 miles away in Warsaw, Poland, because Ukrainian teams can't play international games in an active war zone.

What they're saying: "[Poland] opened the door of the country for Ukrainian people, they opened their hearts," Shakhtar's sporting director Darijo Srna told AP.

  • "The most important [thing] is to play," he added. "To show the world that ... we are fighting, that we are living, that we will have a good future."
  • After two matches, the club sits in second place in Group F, trailing Real Madrid. They crushed RB Leipzig, 4-1, last week.

The backdrop: This isn't the first time Shakhtar has played in an unfamiliar home.

  • The club's nomadic existence began in 2014 when the Russo-Ukrainian war broke out. They'd opened their beautiful new stadium just five years earlier, but were forced to leave Donetsk.
  • Since then, they've bounced around Ukraine from Lviv to Kharkiv to Kyiv, where last month they hosted the Ukrainian Premier League's first game back since February's invasion.

Between the lines: Shakhtar's roster, like their home stadium, also looks different. FIFA ruled this summer that foreigners on Ukrainian clubs could suspend their contracts until June 2023 with no penalty, leading to a mass exodus.

  • Last year, Donetsk had 11 foreign players. This year, only three remain.
  • The club's youth teams were also affected by the war, with dozens of teenagers stranded across Europe for months in the aftermath of their rushed evacuation.

The last word, from Shakhtar coach Igor Jovićević after Wednesday's draw:

"[Celtic] gave us a very hard time, but we were supported by 40 million fans in Ukraine and we claimed a point. This game is something to be really proud about. We turned the impossible into possible, we turned the improbable into probable."
Go deeper