Soccer-Shakhtar move Champions League games away from Donetsk

Reuters

(Adds Dnipro match venue change)

By Igor Nitsak

KIEV, July 23 (Reuters) - Shakhtar Donetsk will shift their headquarters to Kiev and play their Champions League and domestic games in the western city of Lviv to escape from Ukraine's strife-torn east, CEO Sergei Palkin confirmed.

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk also announced on Wednesday that UEFA had ordered the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie against Danish side FC Copenhagen to be played in Kiev.

Ukrainian champions Shakhtar were forced to move from Donetsk, a major industrial city in the East which has become a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists who are fighting army forces controlled by the government.

Offered a choice of four venues by European soccer governing body UEFA, Shakhtar chose to play their games at Lviv Arena, a stadium that hosted matches during the European championship in 2012.

Shakhtar opened the new season with a 2-0 win at rivals Dynamo Kiev in the Super Cup game in Lviv on Tuesday.

The conflict, which was brought into sharp focus by the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight near Donetsk last week, has rocked the club, with six of its players refusing to return to the country.

Shakhtar, who represent the pro-Russian region of Donbass, face a challenge to win support in western Ukraine.

Palkin agreed Shakhtar did not have the same level of support in the stands in Lviv, located more than a thousand kilometres from Donetsk, as their rivals Dynamo during the season-opener on Tuesday.

"Let us be honest, there was not 50-50 support in the stands," he said. "But I think we could fix it in the future. I mean Lviv, in particular. Because we are planning to hold our domestic and Champions league games here."

Palkin said the club was still working on persuading the five Brazilians and one Argentine who have refused to play in Ukraine.

"We are in the persuasion phase saying Ukraine is safe enough to play and live in," he said. "It is our primary task now as many of them are scared. I hope to get this sorted out. If not, we have the other mechanisms to deal with it."

UEFA had said last week that matches in Dnipropetrovsk, some 220 miles (354 km) from Kiev, would be allowed to go ahead.

However, following the Malaysian Airlines disaster, the Danish Football Association and FC Copenhagen had called for their qualifier on July 30 to be moved to a neutral venue. (Editing by Ian Ransom and Ed Osmond)

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