Ultramodern building and luxury ground frequented by football stars a few years ago, the Donbass Arena stadium in Donetsk, stronghold of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, is now in disrepair.
While the matches of the Confederations Cup are contested in neighboring Russia, this stadium which hosted a semi-final of Euro-2012 is abandoned after being seized by armed rebels fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
“It’s very sad that we can’t go to the stadium anymore,” local supporter Yuri Javoronkov, 50, told AFP in a nearby sports bar and now almost deserted.
“It was the mecca of our football, a place where we all came together,” recalls the gray-haired man.
In 2009, when the stadium opened, everything was different in Donetsk, the unofficial capital of the Donbass mining region.
Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, from Donetsk, spent some 350 million euros to build this new stadium for local club Shakhtar, of which he is president.
He hired the architects who had worked on the projects of the Allianz Arena stadium of Bayern Munich in Germany and the gigantic Beijing national stadium, nicknamed the Bird’s Nest, built for the 2008 Olympics. He even invited the pop diva Beyoncé to be sung during the solemn inauguration ceremony.
In June 2012, the Donbass Arena saw Spain beat Portugal, and admired stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez on their pitch.
– The war breaks out –
But two years later, with the impeachment of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, Donetsk and eastern Ukraine plunge into a conflict between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian rebels, which has since killed more than 10,000 people.
Their city having found itself in the heart of the fighting, Shakhtar Donetsk and its stadium were quickly affected.
In May 2014, the club had to cancel all matches at the Donbass Arena and left Donetsk, following a call from international organizations to stop playing in the war zone.
After the players left, Rinat Akhmetov, who was trying to keep control of the stadium, organized the distribution of humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the city.
But last March, the rebels ended up seizing the stadium and other real estate belonging to the oligarch, accusing him of playing a double game with Kiev.
After the seizure of the Donbass Arena, its funding by Rinat Akhmetov was cut, and its staff considerably reduced.
With a lawn already partially yellowed, lighting that no longer works and the empty souvenir shop, the stadium is now only one more testimony to the ruin caused by the Ukrainian conflict.
Although pro-Russian rebels recently announced their intention to relaunch the stadium, they did not say who would finance the work and no date has been put forward for its reopening.