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Kharkiv city guide

The engine room of agricultural Ukraine, Kharkiv was the birthplace of Soviet nuclear technology and is renowned for sporting excellence – it has produced more than 40 Olympic medalists.

Kharkiv city guide
Kharkiv city guide ©UEFA.com

Province: Kharkiv Oblast
Population: 1,461,000
Area: 310km²
Altitude: 152m above sea level

With whole nations, cities, clubs and even families boasting their own coat of arms, distinguishing them can be a nightmare. Kharkiv is heraldry's dream. Encased in golden oak leaves in blue ribbon, their arms feature a caduceus (health) and cornucopia (abundance) beneath four sticks of rye and a sprocket, itself surmounted by an open book with an atomic symbol. There would have been few issues with copyright, yet it is far from arbitrary.

Established at the confluence of the Lopan, Kharkiv and Udy rivers and capital of agricultural north-east Ukraine, Kharkiv was for long the engine room of the region, building machinery on a massive scale. Yet as Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk and Zaporizhya began to take the physical strain, Kharkiv – the birthplace of Soviet nuclear technology – positioned itself as the brains behind the operation, fed by a university population of over 100,000.

There is evidence of people living in the area 4,000 years ago but it was not until 1654 that Ukraine's second largest city was founded by a Cossack band under Ivan Karkach (though common myth has it that Cossack Kharko, a Ukrainian Robin Hood, was responsible). Just 40km from the border, it was soon absorbed by Russian influence and as Kyiv became the capital of the Ukrainian People's Republic so the Bolsheviks made Kharkiv capital of the Soviet Ukraine.

It was burdened with the title from 1917 to 1934, a time that saw hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists and intelligentsia arrested, deported and executed. The purges were only the start of the misery as famine and two spells under Nazi occupation decimated Kharkiv. By the time it was liberated on 23 August 1943, 70 per cent of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands were dead. Rebuilding brought a return of the heavy industry that had been relocated at the onset of war, and Kharkiv became one of the largest scientific-industrial centres in the USSR.

During the Soviet era Kharkiv was a centre of industry and commerce specialising in military equipment. With demand decreasing rapidly, they have since adapted to constructing turbines and multipurpose aircraft. With 13 universities and numerous technical institutions drawing nearly 10,000 foreign students each year, research and high-tech industries are also important.

• Sergei Bortkiewicz, composer (1877-1952) – a renowned Romantic pianist despite enduring World War One under house arrest, siege by Soviets and the destruction of most of his printed compositions, held by German publishers, during bombing raids in World War Two.

• Ilya Mechnikov, scientist (1845-1916) – biologist who was one of the founders of evolutionary embryology, discovering the processes of phagocytosis and intracellular digestion and winning the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1908.

• Lev Landau, scientist (1908-1968) – leading physicist who was a Nobel Prize laureate in 1962 and the co-author on the seminal Course of Theoretical Physics.

• Adolphe Cassandre, artist (1901-1968) – influential painter, commercial poster artist, and typeface designer, whose cubist and surrealist work includes the Yves Saint-Laurent logo.

• Klavdiya Shulzhenko, singer (1906-1984) – named the Soviet Union's favourite female singer in 1971, she famously sang for besieged Leningrad during World War II.

• Borys Mykhailov, photographer (b1938) – eastern Europe's best-known photo-artist having been allowed into full-time photography when the KGB found pictures he had taken of his wife.

Kharkiv's pride of place is Ploshcha Svobody (Freedom Square), the world's ninth biggest square. In fact it is far from square, more of a tree-filled bulb lined with the university and government buildings like the Derzhprom, the first Soviet skyscraper. Initial construction was by hand and for a time it was the tallest building in Europe. Now it houses the department for state industry and provides inspiration to legions of writers who have helped make Kharkiv the capital of Ukrainian science fiction and fantasy.

The pretty Shevchenko Park lies just south, complete with grand statues of Lenin and the poet Taras Shevchenko, and somewhat less impressive arcade games. In the summer the part of the park near pl Svobody becomes temporary home to a few outdoor clubs. Just south of the park is the Pokrovskyi Monastery, and cross the Lopan river and you cannot miss the beautiful Turkish-style Blahovishchenskyi cathedral. Just north is Tsentralny Rynok, a market with something for everyone: whether you want souvenir shapky (fur hats) or a rustic crankshaft.

Fan zone: Ploshcha Svobody (Freedom Square)
Kharkiv's 50,000-capacity fan zone, located in one of the biggest city squares in the world, will feature three giant screens and will open for the duration of the tournament from 12.00 to 01.00 local time on matchdays, 16.00 to 00.00 on non-matchdays. It is free to enter and will broadcast all 31 matches live, though at other times there will be plenty of entertainment such as football skill tests, five-a-side pitches, live concerts and DJ sets, as well as offer a full range of food and beverages.

To and from

Kharkiv Osnova International Airport is 8km south of the city and has daily services to Kyiv, Moscow, Vienna and Istanbul. The central Pivdennyi Vokzal train station has regular links with Donetsk (from 6.5 hours), Moscow (11.5 hours), Kyiv (from 6 hours) and Lviv (20 hours) as well as slower overnight services to the Ukrainian capital. There is a 24-hour service centre complete with English-speaking agent – look out for the shortest queue. A kilometre south of the train terminal is the central bus station, offering seven-hour connections to Kyiv via the capital's Boryspil Airport.

Distances to other UEFA EURO 2012 venues 
Donetsk – 315km
Kyiv – 480km
Lviv – 1,015km
Warsaw – 1,250km
Poznan – 1,570km
Gdansk – 1,600km
Wroclaw – 1,515km

In and around
A key transport hub, Kharkiv has a multitude of options for getting around. The metro has been running since 1975 and has three lines open from 6.00am to midnight, with the bright green tokens for individual journeys costing 2 UAH. The stations are worth the outlay in themselves, with space-age chandeliers and stained-glass portraits. Trolleybuses, trams, buses and mini-buses ('marshrutkas'), are also options for negotiating this expansive city.

Relative latecomers to football, Kharkiv has provided a constant presence among the Ukrainian elite without ever enjoying dominance.

For a city as renowned for sporting excellence as Kharkiv it is perhaps surprising that it can only count one team, FC Metalist Kharkiv, among the nation's elite, even if FC Kharkiv have also featured in the top flight.

Metalist's finest hour came with their USSR Cup triumph of 1988 but they have enjoyed other memorable cup runs – losing the 1983 final to FC Shakhtar Donetsk. The Donetsk outfit still have their measure today: Metalist have finished third in Ukraine's Premier League in each of the past five seasons, behind Shakhtar and FC Dynamo Kyiv.

The first documented game in the city took place on 6 May 1910, some 16 years after Lviv hosted the region's maiden match. The result is not known, though newspaper Yuzhniy Kray (Southern Region) reports First Kharkiv Football Team scored four times against the equally imaginatively named Second Kharkiv Football Club.

Fenix edged out both sides the following year in the first edition of the city championship, a competition that had expanded to 80 clubs by 1924 when the first unofficial USSR tournament was held. Featuring collective teams representing the Soviet Union's major cities and republics, Kharkiv beat Leningrad 2-1 in the final.

The USSR top flight was founded in 1936 but it was not until 1960 that Metalist finally graced it. Their time would come, however, and in 1988 they beat FC Torpedo Moskva 2-0 to become one of only 14 sides to claim the Soviet Cup.

Footballing alumni
Goalkeeper Mykola Uhraitskiy starred for Metalist and Lokomotyv Kharkiv in the 1950s and 1960s, a hometown favourite in the mould of Mykola Korolyov and Volodymyr Linke – Metalist's top all-time scorers. Yet Kharkiv's best-known footballing son never played professionally in the city. Right-back Volodymyr Bezsonov, the Soviet Union's fifth most capped player, appeared in over 300 games for Dynamo Kyiv, earning six USSR titles, five Soviet Cups and the 1986 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

Did you know?
Staying true to Kharkiv's plain-speaking tradition on club names, there is no mystery surrounding the origin of Metalist's moniker – the club were founded in 1925 by the local train building plant.

Kharkiv has produced over 40 Olympic medalists, including Aleksey Barkalov (water polo), Rustam Sharipov (gymnastics), Lyudmila Dzigalova (athletics) and Yuri Poyarkov (volleyball). Then there is the Golden Fish, swimmer Yana Klochkova, who won four gold medals in Sydney and Athens. Men's volleyball team Lokomotyv Kharkiv are nine-times Ukrainian champions while another Lokomotyv is at the forefront of futsal in the country. Sisters Kateryna and Aliona Bondarenko were women's doubles champions at tennis's Australian Open in 2008.