Founded as recently as 1869, Donetsk is not one of Ukraine's oldest cities but the Miners' Capital has made up for lost time, with its grand architecture and especially its monuments giving a good idea of the city's sense of self.
There are statues of local dignitaries, actors, writers, miners, local World War II heroes and, somewhat incongruously, even bronze representations of the four Beatles in their 1964 pomp. There are also two important footballing monuments: both giant balls.
The first was erected in the 1980s, near the old Shakhtar Stadium, in the city’s Scherbakov Park. A favourite meeting place for fans before FC Shakhtar Donetsk games – the answer to the question "where shall we meet?" for Pitmen matches was inevitably "near the ball" – as well as to take pictures and even stroke the sphere for luck.
It remains there now, decked out in a sponsor's colours, close to the entrance to the stadium and just over the fence from the city's fan zone, a quiet testament to the importance of the sport in Donetsk.
When Shakhtar built their new Donbass Arena home, they maintained the tradition by putting a new ball in place near the main entry. They had considered moving the old ball to the new stadium, yet instead elected to start afresh with a new one: a giant granite ball that rests on top of a fountain.
Made by German firm Tittinger, this sphere weighs 28 tons and is over 2.7m in diameter. Despite its size, it looks like a proper football, with the grey polished granite panels interspersed with acryllic-coated black panels. The stand for the ball is impressive too – measuring 3.6m across and weighing in at 12.5 tons.
A thing of wonder for visitors, its design includes three crucial elements: a picture of a mine, a footballer and the inside of the Donbass Arena, thus bringing together all of the city's old motifs while taking pride in the present too. And as ever, the answer to the question "where shall we meet?" ahead of Pitmen fixtures is, "near the ball".
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