The Ukrainian HC Donbass Faces Severest of Difficulties

Ice hockey club Donbass from the Eastern Ukrainian city of Donets’k is into big trouble this year. Its Druzhba (English: Friendship) arena has been plundered and damaged by the separatist forces from the so-called Donets’k People Republic fighting for breaking away from Ukraine. The Druzhba arena was burned heavily in the night of 26-27 May and the damage was done both to its inside and outside parts.

It is possible that the plundering of the HC Donbass’ arena in the city centre of Donets’k, which is currently fully controlled by the separatists, was caused by the fact that the club’s president Boris Kolesnikov compared the separatist forces to Somali pirates and wished them out of the country and thus firmly supported Ukraine’s unity.

Businessmen and Ukrainian MP Kolesnikov is a high-profile figure in the city, region and the country. His fortune allows him and the club to overcome the damage caused to the arena relatively easily. In an interview to the Ukrainian Novoe Vremya (New Times) weekly Kolesnikov has admitted that the US$5 to US$6 million damage hurts, but is not deadly. The real difficulty is the actual state of war in and around the city: the logistics of the goods have become next to impossible, whereas seconding skilled workers is tantamount to subjecting people to a life-threatening journey.

Thus, HC Donbass is suffering more that just financial losses. It was forced to take a decision to miss the next KHL season as otherwise it would have to play all of its games abroad for security reasons. The club has the chance to play in the KHL later as it has become the KHL shareholder. For this to happen, however, the city of Donetsk needs to become a safe place again.

As of the moment of writing, the head coach Andrey Nazarov and many of the top players have left the club. Nazarov will coach HC Barys in Kazakhstan. The top scorer of Donbass and current world champion with Russia Yevgeniy Dadonov has left to play for SKA from St.Petersburg.

Dadonov will join SKA in 2014
Yevgeniy Dadonov will join SKA St.Petersburg in 2014

Next season will be crucial for Donbass as a test of the club’s willingness to survive and to remain Ukraine’s ice-hockey driving force. The decision has already been taken that the team will participate in the national championships, although this tournament is considerably weaker than that of the KHL.

This sad situation has a silver lining, too. Firstly, the national Ukrainian championships have a chance of becoming the centre of the local hockey fans’ attention as nothing will divert their eyes from home teams. Secondly, a weakened HC Donbass is still a powerful team and other teams playing in the championships will need to show solid hockey in order to compete. And thirdly, Donbass has already received confirmations from five of its players who are willing to stay with the team in the next season: Pavlo Padakin, Serhiy Varlamov, Viktor Zakharov, Oleksandr Materuhin, and Oleksandr Toryanyk.

Druzhba Arena in Donetsk
Druzhba Arena in Donetsk before fire and plundering

Currently the club hopes that it will manage to repair the arena until 31 August 2014 and enjoy the 2014-2015 Ukrainian championships. Rejoining the KHL is planned for the season of 2015-2016 as well as calling back the top-players of Donbass from other KHL clubs.

The first prerequisite for these plans coming into fruition is the establishment of peace in the region and political stability in the whole of Ukraine. Once these primary objectives are achieved, everything else will seem to be a manageable task.

Good luck and peace to Donbass & Ukraine!