Kiev may have been left smarting after Crimea voted overwhelmingly to split from Ukraine, but the capital was offered a brief moment of solace when its football team scored a victory against the side from the separatist peninsula.
The symbolic match, held as Crimeans voted to join Russia, was overshadowed by tensions in the splintered ex-Soviet nation, with posters in support of Ukrainian unity and soldiers at the venue.
The final score was 2-1 for Dynamo Kiev, a regular in Champions League or UEFA League games against Crimean side Tavriya Simferopol, whose European appearances have been almost non-existent.
The two sides faced-off in front of a crowd of 11,000 at Dynamo’s 68,000-seat home Olympic stadium, but the game was not necessarily the first thing on fans’ minds.
Originally scheduled to take place in Crimea’s capital Simferopol on Saturday, the game was transferred to Kiev for security reasons after Tavriya asked for a move.
“Tavriya’s arrival means they do not agree with the illegal referendum. Politics should not affect the sport,” a Dynamo Kiev fan Vasyl said before the game kicked-off.
The strategic southern region of Crimea has come under de facto control by Russian troops with the help of pro-Kremlin militias over the past two weeks, in response to the ouster last month of the pro-Moscow government in Kiev.
A handful of Crimean fans who travelled to Kiev said they wanted no part in the referendum, if only out of loyalty for their team.
“I do not recognise a referendum in Crimea as legitimate,” said Igor, who came from Simferopol to support Tavriya.
“Secession of Crimea may lead to the disappearing of football there, we have no one to play with,” he said.
Tavriya is Crimea’s best football team and one of just two clubs from the region in Ukraine’s top football division, but if attached to Russia, nobody knows if it might be able to participate in the Russian championship.
Maxim, another of a tiny number of Simferopol fans in the massive stadium, spoke of the tremendous welcome they had received from the opposing side.
“Kiev fans have come up to us and said thanks for coming here,” he said.
Anton, a fan from Kiev who came to the stadium with a banner reading “Crimea is Ukraine” was hopeful about the future of the peninsula.
“We believe, Crimea will remain part of Ukraine,” he said. “No doubt, football will unite the country.”