Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ukraine celebrates Shakhtar Donetsk victory in UEFA Cup

Kiev - Celebrations broke out across Ukraine early Thursday morning in the wake of Donetsk Shakhtar's win in the UEFA Cup tournament.

An estimated 5,000 fans took to the streets in the capital of Ukraine's industrial heartland Donetsk to cheer their side's 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen.

Crowds in Donetsk's central square chanted "Shakhtar Chempion!" (Shakhtar is Champion!) as automobiles - many flying flying black-and-orange Shakhtar colours - drove by with horns blaring, Channel 5 television reported.

Smaller spontaneous street parties took place in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and even in the western provincial centre Lviv, a region usually politically opposed to Donetsk.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, on hand in Istanbul to cheer Donetsk on from VIP seating, was among the first officials to praise the first-ever European silverware win by a club based in independent Ukraine.

"You have given joy to millions of your countrymen," Yushchenko said. "Today the entire country will celebrate your victory with you."

The irony of Yushchenko's declaration, made public by his administration, was lost on few Ukrainian football fans, as the Ukrainian President has long talked of his life-long support of Shakhtar's arch-rival Dynamo Kiev.

Ukraine's chronic and frequently vicious political in-fighting seemed forgotten later on Thursday morning, as Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - Yushchenko's inveterate rival and fiercest critic - joined the president to praise Shakhtar.

"I thank you, boys, for your peerless gameplay, and for a fantastic holiday," she told Kiev reporters. "You have given our nation a true triumph!"

Frequently an opponent of Donetsk's pro-Russia politicians, Tymoshenko said that on game night she was among Shakhtar's most devoted fans.

"(My family and I sat together and held hands and cheered, we worried, and at the 97th minute, when the score became 2-1 in our favour, it was so wonderful. I don't know what our neighbours thought, but we shouted, whistled, and sang," Tymoshenko said, according to an Interfax report.

"I hope those who are not football fans will forgive me, but yesterday for two whole hours I was able to forget about the financial crisis, about International Monetatary Fund credits, and about politics. Yesterday football ruled the country," she said.

Ukrainian media echoed Tymoshenko's celebratory tone, with the Inter television calling Shakhtar's victory "A historical event, a great achievement for all Ukraine and all Ukrainians."

But some fans in the former Soviet republic, true to the Ukrainian folk tradition of caution even during the greatest success, early on Thursday were seeing a downside.

"Probably now there will be a wave of offers from major European sides," wrote Volod95 in a comment on a Korrespondent web magazine. "One can only hope our sides can hold their teams together, and that (players) won't fall for big money."

Shakhtar owner Rinat Akhmetov, according to Forbes magazine Ukraine's wealthiest citizen, will pay each Donetsk player a cool half million euros (650,000 dollars) for the UEFA win, Interfax reported.

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