Orientation

Donetsk has literally grown out of a steel plant. The city was founded when in the 19th century Welshman John Hughes built a steel plant in the Donbas basin, and it has grown to become the fifth city of Ukraine.

One can call Donetsk the industrial capital of Ukraine, as it mixes steel plants, coal mines and other heavy industry. However, the city has recently undergone a couple of facelifts, which has turned the grey into glitter. The magnificent Donbass Arena can be regarded the most significant component of this regeneration.

One has to admit though that Donetsk is likely the least sparkling of the Euro 2012 cities. As it is a young city, it lacks a historical city centre, and despite the odd nice building it does not have the charm of a Lviv or Kiev.

Its young age and growth spurt in the Soviet era means that there is an abundance of the not-so-exciting architecture of those times. It however also means that it is a spacious city with wide avenues and a park on almost every street corner.

The one street that needs remembering is Artema Street (Artyoma Street). It is the main artery of the city centre, starting at the railway station in the north and running all the way down south until the end of the centre. It has a length of about 10 kilometres and somewhere in the middle you pass the Donbass Arena.

The proper city centre starts about just south of the Donbass Arena. It’s quite stretched out over a couple of kilometres, mixing up offices, shops, entertainment and residential buildings. In general it is not very hard to orientate yourself as the centre is enclosed on two sides (east and west) by large water reservoirs, and on its southern side by a large industrial estate.

Donetsk has chosen not to place the Fan Zone right in the middle of the city centre, but instead at the old Shakhtar Stadium. It doesn’t lie far out of the centre though, straight on the other side of the western reservoir. What’s more, the Fan Zone lies right next the newly opened and splendid Shcherbakova Park.

The walk from the heart of the city centre (Lenin Square) to the Fan Zone, crossing the bridge, will only take about 15 minutes. The Donbass Arena, however, lies almost 4 kilometres away, but the Euro organisation has promised that shuttle buses connect the Fan Zone with the centre and the stadium.

Overall, Donetsk does not deserve the negative reputation it has among some of its fellow countrymen. Not spectacular, and perhaps a bit bland, but with its parks, avenues and shopping malls also not unpleasant at all.

The stadium

Donbass Arena – 51,504 seats.

If someone told you that the Donbass Arena is the best of what Euro 2012 has to offer, it would be hard to argue against it. It is without doubt the highlight of Donetsk.

The stands of the bowl-shaped stadium run right onto the pitch and with its three tiers it looks larger than the 51,500 seats it really holds. The exterior most resembles a UFO and can be lit in several colours at night.

The Donbass Arena is the home of FC Shakhtar, the UEFA Cup winners of 2009, and by now a household name amongst football fans. Pushed forward by the millions of billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, the club has become the dominant force in Ukrainian football and has this season added its seventh league title to its trophy room.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Donbass Arena is its location. It lies only just north of the city centre, and can easily be walked to from most city centre locations.

The stadium lies close to the banks of the Kalmius reservoir (the one on the east), and is surrounded by several parks. So if the weather is nice, there is no reason not to leave a bit early for the stadium. There are also a few shopping malls at close distance.

One can normally visit the Shakhtar museum, and regular tours are being run around the stadium, but of course these have been cancelled for the duration of the tournament.

Who’s coming

The Donbass Arena will be divided by the Ukrainians, English and French, who will all play two of their three group matches at the stadium.

The French and the English will open the tournament for Donetsk, after which the Ukrainians will arrive for their match against the French. The last match will then pit the hosts against the English. The other three matches are played in Kiev against the Swedes.

Most unfortunate in the draw are the English, who will have to travel to Kiev inbetween their matches in Donetsk. A considerable journey, but if they make it through the group stage then they at least get to stay in Ukraine. What’s more, if they end up second in their group, they can even stay in Donetsk for the quarter and semi-final.

The only team that has made Donetsk their base is France. They have chosen for the ultra-modern Kirsha Training Centre of FC Shakhtar, which is located about 20 kilometres outside of the city. As the facility has everything they need, the team will sleep, eat and train at the same site.

How to get in and around

Donetsk is the host city that lies furthest away from Western and Northern Europe, which makes getting there not always easy.

The city is located in the far south-east of Ukraine with only 80 kilometres separating it from Russian and 120 kilometres from the Black Sea coast (technically the Sea of Azov).

Of course, if you arrive by charter flight, there is nothing to worry about as Donetsk has its own international airport. The direct flights to Donetsk are mostly domestic or regional, the few exceptions including such destinations as Munich (Lufthansa), Warsaw (LOT), and Prague (Czech Airlines). No direct flights from either England, France, or Sweden though, hence a transfer will be required.

There is, of course, the alternative of flying to a different Ukrainian airport (e.g. Kiev), but in all cases a significant train journey will be required to reach Donetsk.

Donetsk International Airport, with a brand new terminal for the Euros, lies on the northern edge of the city, not far from the main railway station and just under 10 kilometres from the Donbass Arena and city centre.

You can get from the airport to the city centre by trolleybus line 9 or regular bus line 73a. If you want to get straight to the Donbass Arena, get off at Mira Avenue and follow the avenue east for an app. 15-minute walk. The trip to the centre will take roughly 30 to 40 minutes.

Others might arrive in Donetsk by train, or use the train to make a trip outside of the city. Kiev, the other host city of group D, is a 13 to 14-hour train journey away. No pleasure, but booking a bunk bed on a sleeper train will make it manageable.

The main railway station is located somewhat outside of the city centre, almost 6 kilometres north-west of the Donbass Arena. It is not that hard to find though as following Artema Street north will automatically bring you there.

There are plenty of public transport options that can take you from the station to the centre. Tram 1 and trolleybus 2 bring you straight to the Donbass Arena. Get off at stop Prospekt Mira (tram 1) or Beliy Lebed Shopping Mall (trolleybus 2).

To get around the city centre you can use a network of trams, buses, trolleybuses, or the small marshutkas buses. Most of the city centre will be at walking distance though, and the Euro 2012 organisation will provide shuttle buses between the most important destinations.

Where to eat and drink

Donetsk may not be a Kiev in terms of eating and drinking options, but most will find at least something of their liking, from the easy and simple to the extravagant and luxurious.

For most eating and drinking Artema Street is again your reference point. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area between Shevchenka and Illich Boulevard, and in particular around Pushkina Boulevard, which runs parallel to Artema Street (just west).

To taste locally-brewed beers visit the John James Huge’s Brewery at 129 Artema Street. Even if you’re not impressed by the beers, it has a nice open-air terrace.

That said, Donetsk is more a city of clubbing than quiet pubs. There is a wealth of fancy clubs, though dressing up may at times be required. Some clubs form part of an upscale hotel, others of larger entertainment complexes including restaurants, casinos, karaoke, and bowling alleys.

Most of the clubs are situated in or around the city centre, some in the same area as described above, also a few in the vicinity of the Donbass Arena, but to get to others such as the well-know Virus nightclub, a taxi ride will be required.

What else to see and do

Donetsk is not a city of many museums and monuments. But it is definitely a city of parks and shopping malls.

We already mentioned Shcherbakova Park near the Fan Zone as one of the highlights. Apart from being just pleasant, it also hosts a range of activities such as a dolphinarium. It is unclear whether the brand new domed water park will be completed in time for the Euros.

Another essential park is undoubtedly the Forged Figures Park, which is full of wrought-iron sculptures, among which a replica of the UEFA Cup that Shakhtar won in 2009. It is located at the crossing of  Universytetska Street and Mira Avenue, not too far from the Donbass Arena.

For quieter green areas the embankments of the Kalmius reservoir are your best option. Also great for early morning jogging if you are that type.

Donetsk is filled with modern shopping malls. Though they do not differ much from the typical Western-European shopping mall (nor are their prices lower), they do generally offer other types of entertainment such as a cinema, restaurants, bars, and sometimes even a club or casino.

But instead of hitting the clubs, you may also be tempted to try one of Donetsk’s more cultural options. The Donetsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet tends to host good performances. Or go see a music performance at the National Academic for Ukrainian Music and Drama Theatre.

It is likely that the number of performances is a bit light during the summer period, but a quick glance learns that there do seem to be a few options. Unfortunately, the magnificent Donetsk Circus seems to be on holiday during the month of June.

For some lighter entertainment the new digital Planetarium is an excellent option. Don’t let yourself be put off by the Russian as the images more than compensate for that.

The surroundings of Donetsk are generally of few interest. A potential day trip could be made to the salt mines of Soledar, though organised trips from Donetsk are expensive and getting there by public transport is an adventurous undertaking. One may be able to charter a taxi for the day though, either in Donetsk, or in a nearby place that can be reached by train (e.g. Artemivsk).

Easier to get to is Mariupol, a city located on the Sea of Azov coastline and only a 2.5-hour train journey away. It is the summer getaway for many Ukrainians and Russians. The city itself is filled with heavy industry, but there are quite a few nice beaches at the nearby resorts.

If you have more time to spare or are turning your visit into a longer holiday, Crimea is the place to go. The Black Sea peninsula is Ukraine’s prime holiday destination and filled with beaches, mountains, castles and palaces. Donetsk is the host city closest to Crimea, but you still need an overnight train journey to get there.