Host City Kharkiv
Province: Kharkiv Oblast
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.
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.
Located north east of the country, Kharkiv was build at the convergence of Lopan, Kharkiv and Udy rivers. The city is well known for its industrial, university and scientific centres. The second largest urban centre after Kyiv and the former Ukrainian capital (until 1934) is thus considered as the intellectual capital of Ukraine.
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. Demand thankfully decreased rapidly and 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.
THINGS TO SEE
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 structure 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.
To and from
Kharkiv Osnova International Airport is 8km south of the city and has daily services to Kyiv, Moscow, Vienna and Antalya. 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 1.5 UAH. The stations are worth the outlay in themselves, with space-age chandeliers and stained-glass portraits. Trolleybuses, trams, buses and mini-buses (“marshrutkas”), the private mini-buses, are also options for negotiating this expansive city.
Now home to multiple scientific and educational centres, Kharkiv has produced a few well-known cultural names over the years. Here are a few famous Kharkivites:
• 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 was 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.
Named as Ukraine's leading sporting city by the country's journalists in 2009, more than 40 Olympic medallists have come out of Kharkiv. The city has produced such stars as Aleksey Barkalov (water polo), Rustam Sharipov (artistic gymnastics), Lyudmila Dzigalova (track and field athletics) and Yuri Poyarkov (volleyball).
There is also the Golden Fish, medley 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.
Ukraine's second largest city counts FC Metalist Kharkiv as its leading club although FC Kharkiv have also featured in the top flight. Metalist's finest hour came with their USSR Cup triumph of 1988 though they have enjoyed other memorable cup runs – losing the 1983 USSR Cup final to FC Shakhtar Donetsk and reaching the 2009 UEFA Cup Round of 16, their best performance in continental competition, before succumbing to FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Honours: USSR Cup (1) 1988
Legendary player: Mykola Uhraitskyi (1959-62), thrice-repeated prize winner of the Championship of Ukraine.
Did you know? There is no mystery surrounding the origin of Metalist's name – the club was founded by the local train-building factory.
UEFA EURO 2012™ capacity: 30,000
Built in 1926, Metalist's home ground has received several facelifts down the decades – the latest creating the multipurpose Metalist City complex, raising its capacity to over 40,000 in anticipation of the 2012 European showpiece. Locals call it the Spider Arena as the roof pillars are shaped like the legs of a spider.