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Hello, Euro 2012! Donetsk, the city of steel, coal and football

Hello, Euro 2012! Donetsk, the city of steel, coal and football

The eastern city of Donetsk, which will host five games of the Euro 2012 tournament, will surely surprise foreign fans with its contrasts.  

It has monuments to Vladimir Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders on the streets. It also has some new jewels, including the modern Donbass Arena.

Originally named for an enterprising Welsh businessman, Donetsk is in the industrial heart of the country, packed with steel mills and mines.

John Hughes is the Welsh industrialist who is credited with transforming a tiny village into a major industrial center. That process started in 1869. The city was called Yuzovka in his memory, a name it carried until 1924. The locals take pride in the proletarian heritage of this city.

In the heart of the city, Ukraine’s fifth-largest with one million inhabitants, stands the country’s biggest statue to Lenin. Rising 42 meters above the central Lenin Square, it lies opposite the luxurious Donbass Palace Hotel, owned by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.

Donetsk is a political center of Ukraine and on the rise, especially with the patronage of khmetov and President Viktor Yanukovych, a former governor of the Donetsk Oblast.

Yanukovych took office in 2010 and installed many of his Donetsk loyalists in top positions in Kyiv. According to Forbes magazine’s recent survey, Akhmetov has a net worth of $16 billion, writes Kyiv Post.

Must see: For soccer fans, the FC Shakhtar Museum shouldn’t be missed. The club, originally organized by the workers of mines, has existed since 1936. The museum shows photos and objects from the history of the club, including its greatest achievement – the 2009 UEFA Cup.

Donetsk is home to the world’s perhaps most famous plant forged out of steel, the intricate Mertsalov Palm. Originally created for an exhibition in 1896 by local blacksmith Aleksei Mertsalov out of a single rail, it represented the skills and power of the heavy industry in czarist Russia. Donetsk lost the original palm to a museum in St. Petersburg, but a copy of the plant stands in front of the local government building on Pushkin Boulevard, a great street to wander.

Stadium: The $400 million Donbass Arena, financed by Akhmetov, is the first in Eastern Europe to be built to UEFA’s five-star standard. The soaring roof effect makes the stadium resemble a flying saucer for more than 50,000 spectators.

Take home: FC Shakhtar is the city’s real pride and joy – so make sure you take home something in their black and orange. At the stadium’s fan shops you can pick up keyrings, stickers and scarves with the Shaktar logo. You can also take home decorated pieces of coal, the heart and soul of the city. These can bought at souvenir stores throughout the city.

Say: “Shaktior – chempion!” Locals prefer to speak Russian, calling their club Shakhtior instead of Shakhtar. They are proud of their team, which has been chempion, or champion, of Ukraine for the past three seasons.  

Don’t say: “Donetsk mafia or bandits.” There’s a stereotype about Donetsk as a mafia city, as it was racked by violence in the 1990s as business groups battled for control of assets after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rest assured – most people from Donetsk are friendly, as in the rest of Ukraine.

Quote: Donetsk poet Pavlo Besposhadniy: “Nobody has ever put Donbass on its knees and nobody has been allowed to do it.”

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