Champions League

Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk to play Champions League in Gelsenkirchen

Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk to play Champions League in Gelsenkirchen

Shakhtar Donetsk fans wave Ukraine flags at a match with Marseille in Hamburg (FABIAN BIMMER)

Ukrainian football side Shakhtar Donetsk announced Tuesday they will play next season's Champions League games in Gelsenkirchen, home of German team Schalke, the next stop in the club's exile from their war-torn country.

Shakhtar were forced to leave their home ground, the Donbas Arena in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, after Russian-backed separatists seized control of the region in 2014.

After Russia's full-scale invasion, Shakhtar took their European fixtures to Poland in the 2022-23 season, but with Legia Warsaw qualifying for Europe in 2023-24, the Ukrainian club played at Hamburg's Volksparkstadion.

Schalke, a seven-time German champion, last played in the Champions League as recently as 2018-19 but currently play in the second division, having been relegated at the end of the 2020-21 season.

According to the new Champions League format, the Ukrainian side will play four group stage matches at Gelsenkirchen's Veltins Arena, which was also one of 10 host cities at Euro 2024 in Germany, along with their knockout games should they qualify.

Club boss Sergei Palkin told AFP in November that Hamburg and Germany "had made us feel very welcome", with the club attracting more than 45,000 fans for each of their matches against Barcelona, Porto and Antwerp.

The German Federal Office for Migration estimates that more than one million refugees have fled Ukraine for Germany since February 2022.

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