Two days before the kickoff, an unusual timing for such a decision, UEFA has decided to move the UEFA Europa League match between Vorskla and Arsenal, that was scheduled to take place in Poltava, Vorskla’s home town - to Kyiv instead. What brings UEFA to move the match to a stadium that is located 340 kilometers away from the host’s home stadium?
Since 2014, there is an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. After a pro-Western government was elected in Ukraine, Russia tried to increase its influence in the Eastern and Southeastern areas of Ukraine, known as Donbass.
Four years ago, the Crimean peninsula approved by referendum to join Russia and later on the area was officially annexed. Afterwards, pro-Russian self-rule republics were established at the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. It began a war in Donbass between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists militias supported by Russia itself.
Earlier this week, there was an international incident between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Federal Security Service has captured three Ukrainian ships, as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov through Kerch Strait, a strait that is part of the annexed Crimean peninsula.
The Russians captured the 23 crew members and some of them were already sentenced for 60 detention days by the Crimean court. As a result, the Ukrainian parliament decided to impose a martial law in the areas that border with Russia and the coastal regions.
Even though that this resolution doesn't affect the Poltava region, UEFA decided not to take any chances and moved the match to the inner areas of Ukraine.
It is not the first time that Ukrainian football is suffering from the war in Donbass. Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the leading clubs in the country, has been relocated to play in other cities since 2014. In recent years they hosted matches in Lviv and Kharkiv, while their city was under attack and even the newly built Donbass Arena was bombed and damaged. They are not the only club to make such a relocation, as their opponents Olimpik Donetsk are playing their matches in Kyiv and Zorya Luhansk are hosting in Zaporizhia.
The clubs from the Crimean peninsula withdrew from the Ukrainian league in order to establish a Crimean league. Tavriya Simferopol, the 1992 Ukrainian champions, has been ceased to operate and was formed once again as part of the new league in the peninsula. After they tried to be part of the Russian FA, the Crimean FA is currently a separate organization which is also a ConIFA member.
This game is supposed to be Vorskla’s last home match in the Europa League group stage and they are not expected to qualify for the next stage. As long as this war would not be close to its end, it will be interesting to see what will be the future of hosting matches in Ukraine.