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Truth and fiction about the “death match” – the football battle of Soviet athletes and Nazi gunners

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

How did football develop on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR during the occupation?
The war led to the collapse of the favorite of Ukrainian football – Kiev Dynamo. Someone from the players was drafted into the army, someone managed to evacuate. In September 1941, the Kiev “boiler” became the pinnacle of the Hitler blitzkrieg, as a result of which the Soviet troops suffered huge losses, many fighters and commanders were captured. Among those were members of several football clubs, including Dynamo. Some of them were released at the request of the section of physical education of the city council of Dubyansky and Professor Shtepa.

Kiev Stadtkomissariat gave permission for the resumption of sports life in the city. The first was created society “Ruh”. There were teams at various enterprises, where the athletes who had returned to the capital managed to work. The strongest team was formed at the bakery, whose director Josef 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 occupying authorities that he is a Volksdeutche (is an “ethnic German”). This gave Joseph certain privileges, and he took advantage of them to create a football team at the factory. The director recruited masters from the pre-war Dynamo, provided them with documents, provided food, and organized regular trainings. The core of the team consisted of nine athletes led by Nikolai Trusevich, the famous goalkeeper, who played in the Pishchevik and Dynamo clubs in Odessa, 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 convincing victory.
“Start” vs “Flakelf”: the organization of the match, the composition of the team, the results of the game
On August 6, “Start” with a crushing score – 5: 1 – beat Flakelf, a German team made up of employees of air defense units. The rematch – the legendary “death match” – was held three days later. The request for participation by the Soviet team including former Dynamo Mikhail Sviridov (captain), goalkeeper Nikolay Trusevich and Alexei Klimenko, Makar Goncharenko, Pavel Komarov, Fedor Tiutchev, Michael Putistin, Nicholas Short, Yuri Chernega Georgy 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. The entrance ticket cost 5 karbovanets. There were many German soldiers in the stands, including high ranks.

Preparing for a rematch, Flakelf maximally strengthened the line-up and after the first half had an advantage in the score – 2: 1. But “Start” did not give the opponent a victory. In the second half, the Soviet players turned the tide of the game and won with a score of 5: 3 to the joy of the Ukrainian fans. To the displeasure of the Germans, the start triumph was greeted by the Hungarian and Romanian soldiers present at the stadium.

How was the fate of Kiev football players after the victory over the Germans
The last game of the summer tournament in 1942, Start, was held against the Rukh team on 16 August. And two days later, arrests began, and the bakery workers 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 Germans revenge for the loss. It was also assumed that the footballers who worked at the bakery were sabotage activities in the shops of the enterprise. However, this option has no real basis and is more like a legend.

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