Name: National Olimpic Sports Complex (Respublikansky Stadium)
Address: 55 Chervonoarmjyska, Street, Kiev, Ukraine
Last renovation: 1997
No. of seats: 83,000
Home teams: Ukrainian national team, Arsenal Kiev. Dynamo Kiev
“Respublikansky – the pride of Ukraine”
As all Soviet schoolchildren knew from their history lessons, Kiev was considered to be “the mother of Russian towns”. Indeed, the capital of Ukraine is the oldest of the East Slavic cities. It is a beautiful place with wide green boulevards and magnificent ancient cathedrals famed for their golden domes. However, the past has often been cruel to Kiev. First devastated by the Mongols in 1240, the city faced many more adversities in the next 800 years, culminating in the occupation of the city by Nazi troops in September 1941 after the battle known as the Kiev Defensive Operation, which saw the Red Army lose some 700,000 soldiers.
The National Olympic Sports Complex, or Respublikansky Stadium as it is still referred to by Kiev’s inhabitants, is one of the world’s biggest stadiums. It was home to the legendary Dynamo Kiev team in rhe last quarter of the 2O’h century and is also one of the most impressive sights in the Ukrainian capital. A look at the huge oval bowl takes us back to the old times, when 100,000 crowds were common.
A PERFECT PLACE
The idea of constructing a stadium in the tiird most important city of the Russian Empire after St Petersburg and Moscow dates back to 1914. However, this was the year when World War I began, so the plans were shelved and revived by the Bolsheviks almost a decade later when it was clear that Soviet power had finally been established in Kiev.
The tiny Red Stadium — a typical name for those times – was hurriedly built at the foot of the Cherepanova hill. However, it did not come up to scratch. The designers made many mistakes because of the rushed construction. In particular, the goals were aligned along an east-west axis instead of the standard north-south. But the venue itself was perfect. It was a marvellous arena, situated very close to the centre and big enough to accommodate numerous sports facilities. A new construction project, this time carefully planned, began in 1936. It provided a 50,000-seat arena as the main part of the complex, alongside tennis courts, swimming pools, basketball and volleyball pitches, cycling tracks, etc.
The Respublikansky Stadium was finished five years later and initially named after Joseph Stalin. After the Soviet leader’s death in 1953, it was renamed after Nikita Khrushchev, the future leader of the Soviet Union and the head of the Ukrainian branch of the Communist Party in the late 1930s and 1940s. The legendary radio journalist Vadim Sinyavsky, who was worshipped by several generations of Soviet sports lovers, was supposed to report live on the opening ceremony and the league game that followed between Dynamo Kiev and CDKA on 22 June 1941. Instead he had to report on Nazi bombers dropping their lethal cargo on the “mother of Russian towns” on what was the first day of the Great Patriotic War.
According to official sources, the opening ceremony was finally held three years after Victory Day, in 1948, but there was another ceremony. On 12 July 1942, the occupation forces opened the stadium to the public and arranged a game between the best players from the Nazi soldiers and the local squad Srart, which consisted of former members of Dynamo who had managed to save their lives and were working at the city bakery. The home team won 6-0. In the next few weeks, they defeated more German teams. The series continued at another stadium — Dynamo’s current stadium — with no Ukrainians allowed, but the matches were finally stopped by the authorities because Starts unbeaten run was beginning to look more and more like an act of rebellion. Four of the team’s players were later sentenced to death.
THE LOBANOVSKY ERA
By the middle of the 1960s, Dynamo Kiev were already a major force in Soviet football. They won their first national title in 1961 and five years later went on to win three more titles in a row. Public interest was enormous, and it was clear that the stadium was not big enough. Therefore, further reconstruction began in 1966. Two years later, the capacity had increased by another 50,000 seats. This happened just in time because the Valety Lobanovsky era was about to begin.
The glorious coach rook over Dynamo in 1972. In total, he managed the club for 21 years, during which Dynamo won the Soviet championship seven times, and added five more Ukrainian titles after the collapse of the USSR. Lobanovsky was also the head coach of the national team, three quarters of which consisted of Dynamo players, and took them to the final of the European Championship in 1988. It was he who led the club to the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975, the first international success by a Soviet club, and probably more importantly, considering the opponent was Bayern
Munich, the Super Cup later on that year.
In 1978, the arena underwent further reconstruction In preparation to host several group-stage games during the Moscow Olympics two years later. It was not to be its last renovation. Two decades later, the wooden benches were replaced with plastic seats, which reduced the stadium’s capacity to just under 83,000. However, this attendance figure has never actually been recorded there in the last few years, even when Dynamo or the Ukrainian national ream have played against a top-class opponent, because the stadium is not allowed to be full due to security reasons. However, that will change soon. After Ukraine was chosen to co-host EURO 2012 alongside Poland, there were no other alternatives but to choose the Kiev stadium as the venue for the final. It will therefore undergo further modernisation, and in a couple of years we will surely be admiring the glorious arena in its new form.