Shakhtar Fetes Birthday With Rihanna

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Ukraine's leading football side Shakhtar Donetsk celebrated its 75th birthday in a spectacular party at its new stadium with US star Rihanna and Ukrainian-born actress Milla Jovovich.

The team had its 51,000-capacity stadium filled to capacity in a major showpiece.

The team, which reached the Champions League quarter finals this year, had its 51,000-capacity stadium filled to capacity in a major showpiece late Saturday for the city which will host matches in the Euro 2012 championships.

The orange and black colours of Shakhtar (Miner) are the pride of Donetsk, the main city of eastern Ukraine, a gritty industrial region which rejoiced when Shakhtar won the UEFA Cup in 2009.

"I am proud to be here with you to celebrate the birthday of such a great team," Jovovich, who was born in Kiev under the Soviet Union before moving to the West with her parents, told the crowd in Russian.

US R and B star Rihanna meanwhile delighted the crowd at the brand new Donbass Arena with her latest hits in a show that also included spectacular 3-D projections, fireworks and dance.

Some of the spectators were less impressed with the appearance of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the region and a Shakhtar fan whose government is implementing unpopular social reforms.

"The example of Shakhtar's victories is important for Ukraine," he said to whistles from some in the crowd.

The team played its first match on May 12, 1936 when the Soviet Union was ruled by Stalin.

Then, the club was called Stakhanovets after local miner Alexei Stakhanov who, it is claimed, smashed production records with superhuman efforts that gave birth to the word "stakhanovite".

After World War II the team was devastated, with only three players from the pre-war squad surviving fighting and Nazi occupation.

But the club rebuilt and was renamed Shakhtar Stalino (the then name for Donetsk) in 1946.

Under independent Ukraine, its fortunes were transformed in 1996 when local steel and mining magnate Rinat Akhmetov became its president and it embarked on a spree to bring players from all corners of the globe to Donetsk.

Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine to be 16 billion dollars, was given a massive ovation at the celebrations with almost his every word applauded by the crowds.

"All of Europe knows how difficult it is to play against Donetsk," he said.

Shakhtar is currently riding high in the Ukrainian league, nine points ahead of its eternal rivals Dynamo Kiev.

Source: AFP

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