Documentary on One

Bombs, Balls and Beyoncé

A football team and its billionaire owner - some bling and lots of politics: Before the world knew of Maidan Square in Kiev, we knew of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk soccer teams - football has nothing to do with politics? In Ukraine it does - lots.

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Documentary Maker: Tony Connelly

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Documentary-maker: Ronan Kelly

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Bombs, Balls and Beyoncé

In 2009, Beyoncé was paid to sing at the opening of a new football stadium in Eastern Ukraine.   The stadium looked like a giant blue UFO; it cost $400m to build and was home to the Champions League contenders, Shakhtar Donetsk.

A few years before, Shakhtar had been a poor club, based in a grim industrial city.  A local oligarch took it over and invested millions eventually bringing it to UEFA Cup glory.  The new stadium was so good, it was used to host the semi-final of Euro 2012.

Then in 2014, pro-Russian separatists took over Eastern Ukraine; the club had to flee to the west of the country and the glittering stadium was attacked.

Shakhtar Donetsk, with its star players, is now a team constantly on the road - homeless - hundreds of miles away from its fan base and stadium.  Shakhtar now has to use a variety of grounds and training bases with many of the players living in hotels.

Like the country of Ukraine, Shakhtar has no idea where it is headed.

The fans, players and officials are divided by the conflict, and the oligarch himself has been under fire from all sides for seeming to dither on whether he’s pro- or anti- Ukrainian unity.

RTE’s Europe Editor, Tony Connelly, has reported extensively from Ukraine: the Orange Revolution, the Maidan protests, the annexation of Crimea, the war in the East.

In “Bombs, Balls and Beyoncé”, Connelly takes a different approach to the story of Ukraine in crisis - he tells it through football.

The oligarch who owns Shakhtar, Rinat Akhmetov, is one of the richest men in Europe.  He is deeply involved in Ukrainian politics and has used Shakhtar's success to build his political power.   That connection between politics and football is not just important to Akhmetov, the fans and the players feel it too.  As one Shakhtar defender says, “We’re not just a football team.  A victory for us is a victory for Ukraine."

This documentary was produced in association with Irish Aid/Department of Foreign Affairs

Presented by Tony Connelly

Produced by Tony Connelly & Ronan Kelly

Research, Yuliya Shulaeva

Readings, Fergus Sweeney

First Broadcast at 2pm, Radio 1, October 25, 2014

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