London: Arsenal’s Europa League fixture against Vorskla Poltava was last night relocated to Kiev because of “security concerns” following Ukraine’s decision to impose martial law amid rising tensions with Russia.
Uefa’s emergency panel announced the change of venue just 48 hours before the game was scheduled to kick off in Poltava, the Ukrainian city more than 200 miles to the east of Kiev.
Instead of being held in the Oleksiy Butovsky Vorskla Stadium, which holds 25,000 spectators, the game will now take place in Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium, the 70,000-seat venue for last season’s Uefa Champions League final.
Uefa’s decision comes 24 hours after the governing body insisted that the game would go ahead as planned despite the growing political unease.
The switch is good news for Unai Emery and his side. Arsenal were originally planning to travel to Kharkiv before taking a two-hour bus journey to Poltava, and then repeating the journey back in the early hours of Friday morning ahead of the derby with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Russian forces sparked the latest crisis in the region when they captured three Ukrainian ships off the coast of Crimea, accusing them of illegally entering Russian waters.
In response, Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko called for martial law to be imposed for the first time, saying it was necessary to protect the country from a potential ground invasion.
Martial law allows authorities in Ukraine to regulate the media, restrict public rallies and mobilise citizens with military experience. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, has expressed his “serious concern” over Poroshenko’s decision.
In a statement, Uefa said: “Uefa’s Emergency Panel has today taken the decision to relocate FC Vorskla’s Uefa Europa League group-stage match against Arsenal from the city of Poltava, following the introduction of martial law into certain regions in Ukraine.
“Uefa will continue to monitor and assess the security situation in Ukraine in the coming days before making any decision on potentially relocating other matches.”
— The Telegraph Group Ltd, London