Host of the finals of the Champions League in 2018 and Euro 2012, Ukraine’s 70,000-capacity flagship Olimpiyskiy Stadium has a history as patchwork as the nation it serves.
It was conceived in 1923 and overseen by Lajos Gavró, a Hungarian expat and editor of underground publication ‘Hammer & Sickle’, illegally distributed in Budapest. It is Gavró, the then regional military commissar, who is thought to have named the new venue the Leon Trotsky Red Stadium.
By the time the stadium took shape, centrepieced by a football pitch and surrounded by a running track, Trotsky had been airbrushed from Soviet history.
Local teams, most notably Zheldor, played here from the mid 1920s onwards. A decade later, Kiev’s new-found role as capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic was the impetus behind the creation of a grander arena and the equally new name of ‘Respublikansky’, which the stadium bore until recent times.
Only Moscow and St Petersburg were to have stadia more prominent than the one planned for Kiev. Thousands of Kievites provided free labour in its construction. To be named in honour of later Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchëv, the 70,000-capacity venue was given the date of June 22 1941 for its inaugural match – the very day Hitler invaded the USSR. Locals were said to have kept hold of their tickets to be used for the rescheduled match with CSKA after the war.
Occupying Nazi forces tried to have the stadium opened as a symbol of a return to normality, but the official unveiling came almost exactly three years after the original one, when CSKA beat a newly liberated Kiev 4-0 in 1944. 1941 tickets were still valid.
Reconstruction continued in the late 1940s and 1950s. The stadium lost its Khrushchëv tag after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and was expanded to accommodate 100,000 fans to mark 50 years of the Soviet Revolution in 1967. Ten years later it was further improved to host football matches as part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
After Ukrainian independence, individual seats replaced the wooden benches to reduce the capacity to 83,000. Work on a new complex began in 2008, after the shock decision to award Euro 2012 to the Ukraine and Poland. As well as a new sports bar/restaurant and store dedicated to Dynamo Kyiv, the main new features include a glass façade around the exterior and new roof.
Fittingly, Germany were Ukraine’s opponents for the inaugural match on, equally fittingly, November 11 2011.
The stadium is divided into four colour-coded areas: blue (B) and yellow (D) behind the north and south goals respectively, red (A) and green (C) over the sidelines. The main A stand, on the west side nearest to the Olimpiyskiy bar/restaurant and Olimpiyska metro station, contains the business and VIP seats. Even numbers are used on the upper of two tiers, odd ones on the lower.
The stadium has its own metro station, Olimipiyska, on the blue line. The station is on main Velyka Vasylkivska right by the main entrance to the stadium. On the other side of the arena, is Palats Sportu, on the green line, more convenient for sector B behind the north goal.
There are ticket offices (daily 10am-7pm) at the Palats Sportu, to the north-west of the stadium, and at the Dynamo Stadium.
There are nine categories of prices, ranging from 10hr to 250hr, VIP seats with a standing buffet in Sector A. Places behind the goals cost 20hr (higher tier) and 10hr (lower). A reasonable view is afforded by category 6 or 7 (40hr-60hr) seats, a better one by category 4 (80hr).
Local-language, 50-minute tours take place Wed, Fri-Sun at 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm (not Sun), match days excluded, price 50hr (25hr reduced). To enquire about English-language guides, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Visits start at the West gates and take in the home changing rooms, the business sector and the players’ tunnel.
Pride of place goes to the Olimpiyskiy Sport Restaurant&Grill, a large bar/eaterie standing right in front of the West Stand. Busy during Euro 2012, it closed for renovation, reopening under its present name. An extensive menu, any number of beer and vodka varieties, TV sport, pool and table football are all on offer from 10am to midnight.
On the same side of the stadium, the other choice nearby is the Dorothy Pub at Sahsaganskoho 16/43, with big-screen football, live music and hefty burgers.