Ukrainian Premier League

Published: 08/10/2013

Originally known as the “Vyshcha Liha” (Supreme League), the Ukrainian Premier League is the highest division of the Ukraine’s annual football championship. It is made up of 16 elite professional clubs, who play a season lasting from July to May with a three-month winter break in early December through early March. A system of promotion and relegation is shared with the second-tier Ukrainian First League. Among European leagues, UEFA currently rates the Ukrainian Premier League as number seven, based upon the most recent five years of performance.

Emerging from Soviet Shadows

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine did not have its own national league system. The country was known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and its sports activities fell under the auspices of the Football Federation of the Soviet Union (FFSU). There was, however, a Ukrainian SSR national team, and it rose to international prominence in 1935 by defeating Red Star Olympique of France in a memorable exhibition match by a score of 6-1.

A series of All-Ukrainian Cup competitions were initiated in 1937. They involved the nation’s best clubs, such as FC Dynamo Kyiv (est. 1927). Following World War II, however, the tournaments were downgraded to regional cup competitions and limited to amateur clubs. A supplemental elimination tournament called the Cup of Ukrainian SSR was conducted along with league competitions, but it was never considered a national championship.

One noteworthy Ukrainian club of the Soviet era was Stakhanovets (est. 1936). Based in the city of Donetsk, they competed in the Soviet Top League and were back-to-back winners of the Soviet Cup in 1961 and 1962 under their post-War name “Shakhtyor.” The club would survive the political turmoil of the next several decades to emerge in the modern era as FC Shakhtar Donetsk—the most powerful Ukrainian team of the 21st century. Meanwhile, FC Dynamo Kyiv would twice lift the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, in 1975 and 1986, as well as the UEFA Super Cup in 1975.

The formation of the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) and its Supreme League in 1991 allowed professional clubs to gain independence from the grip of the FFSU. In 1992, the Ukraine secured its own membership in both FIFA and the UEFA, concurrent with the creation of the first league championship for non-amateur teams as well as the inaugural edition of the Ukrainian Cup. The first national champions were SC Tavriya Simferopol from the Crimea, while FC Chornomorets Odessa claimed the Ukrainian Cup in 1992 with a 1-0 victory over Metalist Kharkiv (est. 1925) at Kiev Republican Stadium.

A New Era of Football

Ukrainian football has come a long way in the past two decades. In 2008, for example, both Metalist Kharkiv and Shakhtar Donetsk reached the semi-finals of the last UEFA Cup competition conducted before the UEFA Europa League was established. In the finals, Shakhtar Donetsk prevailed over Werder Bremen of Germany by a score of 2-1. That same year, the Supreme League was reformed to into a more autonomous entity of both the FFU and the Professional Football League of Ukraine (est. 1996), officially changing its name to the Ukrainian Premier League.

Despite the recent dominance of Shakhtar Donetsk in league competition—eight championships since 2000-01—it is Dynamo Kyiv who hold the record for national titles with 13 in total. Both clubs have nine Ukrainian Cup victories apiece, while Chornomorets Odessa have two. Vorskla Poltava and Tavriya Simferopol were the winners in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The defending champions at the start of the 2013-14 season were Shakhtar Donetsk. Following the 2012-13 season, the relegation/promotion process did not go smoothly. The champions of the Ukrainian First League, Sevastopol, were promoted to replace the #7 finisher of the Premier League, Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih, who were denied a license due to financial reasons. No other changes were made in league membership. The remaining 14 clubs are Arsenal Kyiv, Chornomorets Odessa, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Dynamo Kyiv, Hoverla Uzhhorod, Illichivets Mariupol, Karpaty Lviv, Metalist Kharkiv, Metalurh Donetsk, Metalurh Zaporizhya, Tavriya Simferopol, Volyn Lutsk, Vorskla Poltava and Zorya Luhansk.

Published on: 08/10/2013

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