When Donetsk looks back on staging games at UEFA EURO 2012, Friday's cloudburst over the Donbass Arena will surely be at the forefront of many minds.
Ukraine's match against France was suspended after just four minutes as the heavens opened, with a week of 35C temperatures in the Miners' Capital suddenly giving way to a ferocious electrical storm. It was bad enough in the stadium, but at least fans and players could run for cover. In the city's fan zone, that was not necessarily an option.
"It was incredible," Vladimir from Donetsk told UEFA.com. "I was soaked to the skin in seconds. The rain started falling straight after the first lightning strike, and before we even heard the thunder. There was no time to hide. So I just walked to the nearest tent and ordered a drink. I knew it wasn't safe to hide under a tree during a storm like this, so I stood under the open sky. The rain was not cold – the temperature was about 22 or 24C. The only thing that scared me was the tree that got blown down not far from me."
About 27,500 supporters had gathered in the city's Scherbakov Park to watch the game on the big screens, and refused to budge regardless of the elements. "The fan zone did not close," one of the organisers told UEFA.com. "People sheltered from the rain under umbrellas, tents and trees. None of the fans wanted to leave the team without their support."
The world's television cameras captured that commitment in their coverage of the match. Most fans dashed for cover under the roof of the Donbass Arena, yet a hardy few stood firm – some of them Ukrainians, and a fair few Frenchman too, with several exploiting the sudden deluge to do a pantomime-style swim around the arena.
The Ukraine supporters never stopped singing either way, at the stadium or in the fan zone, where – as the skies eventually cleared – fans helped workers to clear away loose branches dislodged by high winds. Oleh Blokhin's team may have lost the game 2-0, but throughout Donetsk at least, there was much evidence of the supporters' commitment to the cause.
Yesterday a clean-up operation began, as the city was cleared of all remaining broken branches while falling trees were shored up or taken away. The streets were swept clear, and barring a few wind-blown cups in the fan zone, things are almost back to normal. The city took a mighty battering, yet it is a credit to Donetsk that the night of the big storm brought fans together, regardless of the result on the pitch.
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