City Of Football And Surprises

An ordinary mining town at first glance, Donetsk, a boutique but bustling Ukrainian city, harbors surprises that range from soccer to salt mines to mind-boggling sculptures.

With a population of close to two million, Donetsk is Ukraine’s leading center for industry, minerals, metal, education, science, culture and sports, as well as one of its four largest cities. Known as the ‘City of a Million Roses’, Donetsk is famous for its parks which spread through nine different districts along the banks of the Calmius River that flows through the middle of the city. With its warm, hospitable people, Donetsk is also cheaper and safer than Ukraine’s capital Kiev and other big cities.

Come now and let’s take a brief stroll through this city, which has a lot more to offer than meets the eye. In almost all the cities in the Russian zone, a main drag runs through the city center from one end to the other, and Donetsk is no exception. The city’s vital artery, Artyoma Street joins together several parks, art and culture centers, shopping malls and cafes and restaurants along its length. During your stroll down the street, you can stop at the Opera and Ballet Theater for details about the latest performances as well as taking a glance at what’s playing at the Shevchenko Movie Theater. All along this avenue you will encounter monuments of history and culture. The Tsar Cannonball, for example, aka Tsar Pushkya, known to be one of the world’s largest cast iron cannonballs, is a typical Russian cannonball made in the 16th century but never used. Another must-see on your Artyoma stroll is the cathedral. Conspicuous for its numerous domes and delicate architectural decoration, this temple is a favorite stop with tourists.

At the intersection of Artyoma Street with other avenues almost smack dab in the city center you will come across Lenin Square, the city’s main address for culture, art and entertainment. Boasting the Donetsk Drama Theater, concert center, the city’s leading hotels and a wide variety of dining and drinking establishments, Lenin Square is alive at every hour of the day. One of the icons of the square is a statue of Lenin, for whom it is named. Besides symbolizing the city’s history, this statue also plays host to a Donetsk ritual. Members of the middle-aged generation in particular bury letters here embodying for the younger generation their ideas and expectations for the future. How seriously the young take these letters is anybody’s guess, but don’t be surprised if you run across someone burying something in the ground around Lenin’s statue. Meanwhile the water fountain and pool on the other side of the square, known as the Music Fountain, will enable you to witness how water dances to the sound of music.

The Planetarium is another site not to be missed in Donetsk. Thanks to the special ‘barcovision’ technology employed at the Planetarium with its various informative sections on outer space and the planets, you will witness to the beauty and mystery of the universe in three-dimensional installations.  Not only that, it’s a unique opportunity for the children.

The botanical garden is another place in which Donetsk residents take pride, not hesitating to praise at every opportunity.  One of Europe’s largest manmade eco-systems, its creation was motivated primarily by the city’s heavy industry. Set up for the purpose of analyzing the environmental impact of industry and conducting research on counter-measures, in addition its scientific benefits, this park today offers visitors a fairy tale world of plants with everything from lilacs and roses to tropical flowers.

Parks are a typical feature of cities founded on rivers, and Donetsk is surrounded by them on all sides. Didn’t we say that there was a surprise lurking round every corner? Well, many of those little surprises are waiting in the city’s parks. At Sherbakova Park, for example, you will find a zoo. In another park there is a metal sculpture at every turn, as if you have stepped into an open air sculpture gallery. In one of the parks on Artyoma Street the giant Bochum Bell, a gift of the German city of Bochum for which it is named, will suddenly loom before you. Meanwhile in another park whose modern stadium is not yet completed, you will literally lose yourself in the luxuriant landscape with its myriad shades of green. And you will realize that the river is not only the life blood of Donetsk industry but of life in general, for it is this park that has earned the city the epithet ‘City of a Million Roses’.

Another big surprise awaits you under the ground: the salt mines. Salt was first discovered in the area in the 17th century. The salt in Donetsk’s Artyemisk region, one of the world’s biggest salt mines today, is said to be the highest quality salt in the world, and touristic excursions are even organized to the quarry. The temperature in the salt mine, which is reached following a descent of several minutes 300 meters under the ground by elevator, is a constant 15 degrees. The world’s first underground sanatorium was constructed here in this mine where saturation with salt produces an air composition in which dust and many harmful microorganisms cannot survive, and a large number of sick people are treated here in the mine’s pure air. The salt quarry also boasts one of the world’s largest underground galleries, which, with its magnificent acoustics, is sometimes used to host concerts.

Another source of pride for Donetsk is without a doubt the famous athlete Sergei Bubka. Bubka, who has inscribed his name in gold letters in the annals of pole vaulting with several records as well as countless championships, came here at the age of fifteen with his trainer and left a profound mark on the city. Bubka’s statue rises in Donetsk today as if to immortalize that legacy.

But beyond Bubka’s popularity, it is soccer and its rising star, Shakthar Donetsk, that sets the sports agenda in Donetsk today. Defeating Werder Bremen in the finals played in Istanbul, UEFA champion Shakthar has turned Donetsk into a household name around the world in recent years.
One thing is sure, namely, that Donetsk city is that anyone with a yen for exploring, a delight in surprises and a natural curiosity about the values little things can add to life and a town will not regret visiting.

Currently trained by Mircea Lucescu, former trainer of Istanbul’s Galatasaray and Beşiktaş teams, Shakthar Donetsk is the city’s pride and joy. So much so that love of soccer knows no bounds in this city where one of Europe’s most modern stadiums, the Donbass Arena, has gone up in recent months to the tune of 400 million dollars. The stadium is a big plus for Ukraine as soccer madness peaks during the city’s preparations to host the 2012 European Football Championship together with Poland.

While in Donetsk, we highly recommend trying the Borscht soup, made with various vegetables. Potatoes also have an important place in Ukranian cuisine – the ravioli-like vareniki is one of their most special dishes.

Flowers come to mind with Donetsk. It’s quite possible to pass five florists along the way even when buying a bottle of water. Don’t worry about transporting the flower back home, they have ways to take care of it.

Turkish Airlines flies both ways between Istanbul and Donetsk on Tuesdays and Fridays. Flights depart from Istanbul at 9:00 AM and from Donetsk at 12:00 PM.