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Truth and fiction about the “death match” – a football battle of Soviet athletes and fascist anti-aircraft gunners

The Great Patriotic War is remembered by many grandiose battles in which Soviet soldiers defended the independence of their homeland. But in the history of the confrontations between the USSR and Nazi Germany, there is one unique battle that took place not on the battlefield, but on the football field. This is a match between the Ukrainian Start team and the German Flackelf anti-aircraft gunners, later called the “death match”. The event took place in August 1942 in occupied Kiev and, over time, grew into fictions and legends.

How football developed on the territory of the USSR during the occupation

The war led to the collapse of the favorite of Ukrainian football – Dynamo Kyiv. Some of the players were drafted into the army, someone managed to evacuate. In September 1941, the top of Hitler’s blitzkrieg was the Kiev “cauldron”, as a result of which Soviet troops suffered huge losses, many soldiers and commanders were captured. Among those were members of several football clubs, including Dynamo. Some of them were released at the request of the head of the physical education department of the city council of Dubyansky and Professor Shtepa.

The Kiev Stadtkomissariat gave permission for the resumption of sports in the city. The first was the “Rukh” society. There were teams at various enterprises, where athletes who returned to the capital managed to get a job. The strongest team was formed at the bakery, whose director Joseph Kordik was an avid football fan.

How the legend was created, or a brief history of the Start team

The ethnic Czech Kordik managed to convince the occupation authorities that he was Volksdeutsche (he is an “ethnic German”). This gave Joseph certain privileges, and he used them to create a football team at the factory. The director hired masters from the pre-war Dynamo, supplied them with documents, provided them with meals, and organized regular trainings. The core of the team consisted of nine athletes, led by Nikolai Trusevich, a famous goalkeeper who played in Odessa clubs Pishevik and Dynamo, and later in Dynamo (Kiev).

When the Germans announced the holding of a football tournament in June 1942, Josef Kordik obtained permission for Start to participate in it. During the summer, the bakery team held several matches with the Germans, as well as the Hungarians and Romanians, whose garrisons were stationed in Kiev, and each achieved a landslide victory.

“Start” vs “Flackelf”: organization of the match, team composition, results of the game

On August 6, the “Start” with a crushing score – 5: 1 – defeated Flakelf, the German team made up of serving air defense units. A rematch – the legendary “death match” – was held three days later. The application for participation from the Soviet team included former Dynamo players Mikhail Sviridovsky (captain), goalkeepers Nikolai Trusevich and Alexei Klimenko, Makar Goncharenko, Pavel Komarov, Fedor Tyutchev, Mikhail Putistin, Nikolay Korotkikh, Yuri Chernega, George Timofeev, Alexander Tkachenko, Ivan Kuzmenko. Kiev Lokomotiv was represented by Vladimir Balakin, Vasily Sukharev, Lev Gundarev, Mikhail Melnik. The match was held at the Zenit stadium in the presence of several thousand spectators. Entrance ticket cost 5 carbovanets. In the stands there were many German troops, including high ranks.

Preparing for the rematch, Flackelf maximally strengthened the squad and after the first half had an advantage in the long run – 2: 1. But “Start” did not give the opponent a victory. In the second half, Soviet football players turned the tide and won with a score of 5: 3 to the delight of Ukrainian fans. To the Germans’ displeasure, the start of the Start was welcomed by the Hungarian and Romanian soldiers present at the stadium.

What happened to the fate of Kiev football players after the victory over the Germans

The last game of the 1942 summer tournament, “Start”, was played against the “Rukh” team on August 16. And two days later, the arrests began, and the workers of the bakery were the first to be taken into custody.

There are several versions of the reasons for the arrest of Ukrainian athletes. The most common – the revenge of the Germans for losing. It was also assumed that the footballers working at the bakery carried out sabotage activities in the shops of the enterprise. However, this option has no real basis and is more like a legend.

The most likely version is that according to which the athletes became victims of a denunciation. Someone George Vyachkis, a Lithuanian by birth, who worked in the Gestapo during the occupation of Kiev and kept a restaurant for the Nazis, decided to raise his rating in the eyes of the German owners. To this end, he reported to the authorities that the Start players were agents of the NKVD. Formally, the basis for such a statement was, since Dynamo was in the office of this commissariat. Confirmation of this version is the arrest of exclusively former Dynamo players, the players of Lokomotiv remained at large.

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