Although The Other Chelsea is 10 years old, it is a valuable film to watch in the context of today’s impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump. First-time Writer-Director Jakob Preuss lays out the struggling lives of coal miners in Donetsk and compares them to Kolya, a young rising local politician and businessman who drives a Lexus and drinks very old cognac. What ties them together is the success of their football team, FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Шахта́р Донецьк).
When Shakhtar wins, it helps Kolya’s Blue Party. Kolya is not a football fan, but supports Shaktar for the prestige it brings his region. Shaktar is owned by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who owns just about everything in the area, as well as being a member of Parliament. Kolya admires Akhmetov, who made his fortune and took on risk by buying and improving assets that no one else wanted. To show his dedication to Donetsk and its people, Akhmetov is building Donbass Arena.
When Shakhtar wins, the long-suffering miners can celebrate the team that is named after them (shakhtar means mine). For these fans, life was better under a strong Soviet state, when “everyone owned everything”. But the miners know what is going on. “An honest man doesn’t make billions like that. It’s always at someone’s expense,” they say. “Everyone with power is a criminal.” Still, the mining Collective wishes for a strong owner to come in, revive their mine, and make it safer. Without that strong owner, they are like ants without a queen.
Happily for the miners and director Preuss, Shakhtar went on a winning streak to capture the 2009 UEFA Cup over Werder Bremen. A large part of the success was due to Akhmetov’s recruitment of Brazilian players, some of whom went on to bigger teams: Fernandinho (Man City), Ilsinho (Philadelphia Union), Jádson, Willian (Chelsea), and Luis Adriano (AC Milan).
Aftermath of the film
After the film, the stadium was completed in Aug-2009; built to FIFA standards, it was said to have cost $400M at the time. In Feb-2010, with Akhmetov’s support, pro-Russia Victor Vanukovych was elected president of the Ukraine. He ordered the Nov-21-2013 mass shooting of protestors in Kiev’s Independence Square (the incident is also known as the Euromaidan or Ukrainian revolution). In Feb-2014, he fled the Ukraine for Russia, and the opulence of the home he left behind was indicative of the wealth he had amassed through graft and corruption.
Putin welcomed Vanukovych’s arrival in Russia as an invitation to invade and annex Eastern parts of the Ukraine, leveraging the presence of pro-Russian separatists. The Brazilian players refused to go back to Donetsk because of the safety issues. The stadium was bombed in Aug-2014 and then closed. Currently Shakhtar plays its games in Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv (4 hours away), and practices and lives in Kiev.
A 2015 ESPN article by Brett Forrest has extensive details about the 1990s Ukrainian mafia and how Rinat Akhmetov came to power and built System Capital Management (SCM), the most “professionally administered company in Ukraine”. Besides being the sole owner of SCM, Akhmetov was also a huge football fan, supporting the team’s $70-100M annual budget. Because many of Akhmetov’s assets are located in the war-torn areas of Ukraine, his current wealth is rumored to have declined precipitously. But I doubt we should feel sorry for our fellow football fan.
In Apr-2019, it appears Ukrainians got angry enough about the political corruption to elect a TV comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a landslide presidential election, winning 73% of the vote.
Why you should watch this film
What I value about this film is that it explains the Ukraine and shows what life is like under the oligarchs. For example, politician Kolya’s family celebrates May-9, WW2 Victory Day. They toast Stalin as the liberator of Europe, the victor, and a leader of the army and his people. It’s wondrously jarring compared to what we are taught in the USA.
Are the oligarchs corrupt or are they generous benefactors? Why does the Collective settle for nothing more than a successful football team? We don’t find that out in this film, but Americans should pay attention to the questions, because with growing income disparities, the USA has its own set of oligarchs whose decisions affect all society.
And finally, what does this have to do with Donald Trump? To understand, you must also watch the 2018 Tifo video Assassinations, Football and Trump: The Story of Shakhtar Donetsk’s Rinat Akhmetov, in which James Montague, author of “The Billionaires Club”, gives a thorough explanation of the linkages from Ukrainian oligarch Akhmetov to Trump. Zelenskiy is now linked to the Trump impeachment because Trump ostensibly wanted to trade $400M of military aid to the Ukraine in exchange for investigating Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Briefly, the trail looks something like this graphic, but it is all well explained in the Tifo video. Please watch it.
My only issue with this film is that the title references Chelsea because Chelsea is owned by a Russian oligarch. I don’t recall if Chelsea even appears in the film at all. So I would have preferred a title that referenced the Ukraine or oligarchs. But otherwise, thank you Germany and Tifo, for producing such great films!
In Russian with English sub-titles.
The full title is The Other Chelsea: A story from Donetsk, the Russian title is Другой Челси: История из Донецка , and the original German title is The Other Chelsea – Eine Geschichte aus Donezk. Shaktar Donetsk may also be spelled Shaktar Donetsk.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8