There are certain times when politics and sports interconnect into a beautiful relationship. This particular story begins in Donetsk, a city that has been devastated by warfare, for the past two and a half years. Donetsk is home to one of the most successful and beloved soccer clubs in Ukraine,Shakhtar Donetsk. The club has dominated Ukrainian soccer for the past decade, until recently, after the events of the war in eastern Ukraine. In a span of five years, between 2009 and 2014, the team won five league titles, three domestic cups and one UEFAcup title.Despite all of their domestic success, the European triumph in 2009 was exceptionally significant.

Not only did a Ukrainian club win a European club title since 1986,rival supporters, from differentregions of the country, wereshaking hands and talking about Ukrainian soccer as if it was relevant again.

Soccer unifies in war

Today we see a very different Donetsk, homes, hospitals and schools are constantly bombarded by rocket assaults and gunfire. People are forced to take their belongings and flee to neighboring Russia, as refugees. The Donbass Arena, the home stadium of Shakhtar Donetsk is now used as a crisis center. In the beginningof the conflict, people wouldgather in the stadium to accept humanitarian aid. As for the soccer club, Shakhtarhas lost the majority of their fan base, forced to play in exile, in the western city of Lviv.

War doesdestroy people's lives, it can also bring everyonecloser together and unite people,through a common cause. Darijo Srna, the team captain of Shakhtar Donetsk,has donated twenty tons of tangerines to children in Donetsk, from farms in his native Croatia. In addition to the food, he also donated laptops to children.

Srna always expressed his loyalty to the club and his admiration for the city of Donetsk. One other gesture of solidarity and unity that is seen recently is the carrying of Ukrainian flags to soccer matches by rival fans. In the past, Shakhtar's rivals from Kiev or Odessawould mock the team from Donetsk and even participate in violent post-match altercations.

Now most of the fans in Ukraineparticipate in a national truce and chant pro-Ukrainian rhetoric during the matches.

Sport an escape from hardship

Soccermay seem insignificant in this difficult timeperiod and there are more important things inour daily lives than sports. However the reason I fell in love with this game is because at times soccer provides us with an escape for at least ninety minutes, from the hardships of our daily lives. Soccer possesses a special ability to play with our emotions like any other great art form.There are moments of purejoy that can turn to spontaneous rage for example. The people of Donetsk take pride in their team and perhaps one day, after the war, Donbass Arena will once again be full of happy fans, cheering for Shakhtar.

At the moment Shakhtar Donetsk is not only enjoying success domestically, with being on top of the Ukrainian Premier League, but the team is also unbeaten in Europa League competition this season. Shakhtar Donetsk is no longer just a team from Donetsk but it is now a team that represents all of Ukraine. Shakhtaris not just a soccer team but a symbol of unification and national pride. The story of this team and what they mean to the city of Donetsk is a prime example of how politics and sports can interconnect into a beautiful relationship.

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