Matches moved away from east Ukraine cities

IGOR NITSAK
Last updated 03:17 24/07/2014

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Shakhtar Donetsk will shift their headquarters to Kiev and play their Champions League and domestic games in the western city of Lviv to escape from Ukraine's strife-torn east, CEO Sergei Palkin confirmed.

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk also announced on Wednesday (local time) that UEFA had ordered the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie against Danish side FC Copenhagen to be played in Kiev.

Ukrainian champions Shakhtar were forced to move from Donetsk, a major industrial city in the East which has become a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists who are fighting army forces controlled by the government.

Offered a choice of four venues by European football governing body UEFA, Shakhtar chose to play their games at Lviv Arena, a stadium that hosted matches during the European championship in 2012.

Shakhtar opened the new season with a 2-0 win at rivals Dynamo Kiev in the Super Cup game in Lviv on Tuesday (local time).

The conflict, which was brought into sharp focus by the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight near Donetsk last week, has rocked the club, with six of its players refusing to return to the country.

Shakhtar, who represent the pro-Russian region of Donbass, face a challenge to win support in western Ukraine.

Palkin agreed Shakhtar did not have the same level of support in the stands in Lviv, located more than a thousand kilometres from Donetsk, as their rivals Dynamo during the season-opener.

"Let us be honest, there was not 50-50 support in the stands," he said. "But I think we could fix it in the future. I mean Lviv, in particular. Because we are planning to hold our domestic and Champions league games here."

Palkin said the club was still working on persuading the five Brazilians and one Argentine who have refused to play in Ukraine.

"We are in the persuasion phase saying Ukraine is safe enough to play and live in," he said. "It is our primary task now as many of them are scared. I hope to get this sorted out. If not, we have the other mechanisms to deal with it."

Meanwhile, UEFA has reacted to unrest in eastern Ukraine by moving the first leg of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Champions League qualifier against FC Copenhagen.

The third qualifying round game will now be played in Kiev in central Ukraine on July 30, at the Olympic Stadium, UEFA said Wednesday (local time).

Copenhagen had asked UEFA not to play in Dnipro's home city in the troubled east of the country.

"We are satisfied that UEFA has listened to us and understood the many arguments that spoke against holding the game in Dnipropetrovsk," said Anders Horsholt, the Danish club's managing director. "We would like to stress that we have no problems with our opponent FC Dnipro. This is only a matter of safety and sense."

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The switch came days after UEFA declared Dnipropetrovsk among four Ukrainian cities judged safe to host Champions League or Europa League matches.

Dnipro had announced the rescheduling - playing next Wednesday, one day later than originally planned - earlier on its Twitter account.

"UEFA has forbidden the hosting of the Dnipro-Copenhagen match in Dnipropetrovsk," the club said.

Dnipro finished runner-up in the Ukraine league last season, earning entry to the Champions League qualifying rounds. It needs to beat two opponents to join champion Shakhtar Donetsk in the lucrative group stage.

Dnipropetrovsk is a largely Russian-speaking city 210 kilometres from Donetsk and has seen comparatively little unrest.

- Reuters, AP

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