Spanish football fans who travelled to Donetsk to see their team beat Portugal in the semi-finals of 2012 European Football Championship ended up in a city that is located closer to central Asia than it is to Madrid. Nevertheless, Donetsk, the easternmost city to host matches during the tournament, is well on its way to being very well connected to western Europe, thanks in no small part to a multitude of infrastructure projects which have improved its transport systems.

In May, the new terminal at Donetsk’s Prokofiev International Airport was opened, a month before the first game of the European Championships kicked off. Apart from its plush interiors, the airport gained an all-weather runway capable of serving all aircraft, including the Airbus A380, the largest passenger plane in the world.


Greater reach

“We are in the process of attracting more European airlines that will allow travellers from Europe to come to Ukraine,” says Oleksiy Dubrevskyy, chief commercial officer at Prokofiev Airport. “We want to attract more airlines by subsidising [them], working together with the national government and local authorities,” he adds.

At the moment, the Prokofiev International Airport offers direct flights to 23 European destinations, including Barcelona, Munich and Prague, and the airport authorities have ambitions to establish it as a hub for passengers travelling between the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The airport already serves five Middle Eastern destinations, and Mr Dubrevskyy says this number will rise in the coming months. 

“It is possible to dip in and out of Donetsk on the same day if you are travelling within central and eastern Europe,” says James Wilson, managing director at Fipra Ukraine, a public affairs consultancy. Brussels-based Mr Wilson visits the city once a month on average, and says that travelling to Donetsk has improved considerably in the past five years. There is still a room for improvement, however, and one area of focus for Prokofiev International Airport is to attract budget airlines. 

On track

In the run up to the European Championships, Donetsk’s railway station was also modernised. The station grew to four times its previous size, and new tracks were installed for the launch of the high-speed train connection between Donetsk and Kiev. Modern Hyundai trains, which can reach speeds of 180 kilometres per hour, have cut the travelling time between the two cities to six hours.

Donetsk Oblast can be also accessed by sea through its port in Mariupol, located by the Sea of Azov. The port, one of the biggest in Ukraine, plays an instrumental role in shipping cargo produced by the region’s metallurgic sector, and receives on average 400 vessels a month. As with the region's airport, the port in Mariupol will be undergoing a thorough facelift. In October 2012, Portinvest, a holding company within Ukrainian business conglomerate System Capital Management, announced a plan to develop new terminals and storage facilities in Mariupol as a part of a public-private partnership project worth more than $250m.

Events such as football's European Championships throw up drama and excitement, but they also act as a catalyst for kick-starting infrastructure improvements in the host cities, something that Donetsk can most certainly attest to.