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DEATH MATCH
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
DEATH MATCH
Monument in Kyiv to FC-Start; depicting the four players who died at the hands of the Germans.
DEATH MATCH
Honcharenko & Svyridovskiy in front of the monument FC-Start.
DEATH MATCH
Monument to FC-Start
DEATH MATCH
Dynamo & Start goalie Nikolai Trusevich.
DEATH MATCH
Zenit Stadium at The Death Match
DEATH MATCH
Death Match bill
DEATH MATCH
The team
DEATH MATCH
Paul Radomski
 
This week, 70 years ago, surviving team members of F.C. - Start were languishing in the Syrets Concentration Camp in Kyiv, Ukraine, or were on the lam.
In September 1941, Axis forces had occupied the Ukrainian capital after a huge battle that resulted in the capture of 650,000 Soviet soldiers. After the battle, some of the captured Ukrainian soldiers were released, while the Russians were sent to Germany to work. 
Before the war, Kyiv had boasted a very good soccer team - Dynamo Kyiv. Founded in 1927, it was Ukraine’s best, and with 13 Soviet championships, was the most successful in the U.S.S.R. Dynamo Kyiv was supported/sponsored by the NKVD - the Soviet State Police.
After the Battle for Kyiv, Dynamo’s goalie, Mykola Trusevich, was released and found work in Bakery Number 3. The reason that Trusevich got the job was because the bakery boss, Iosif Kordik, was an ardent Dynamo fan. Although Kordik was a Czech, he spoke fluent German, and convinced the Germans he was Austrian, living in Kyiv with his Ukrainian wife - which is how he got his position. Some say the baker’s name was Otto Schmidt and that, although born in Kyiv, he was of German heritage.
In any event, he suggested that a bakery team be formed. Ultimately, seven other Dynamo Kyiv players were recruited - Mikhail Svyridovskiy, Nikolai Korotkykh, Oleksiy Klimenko, Fedir Tyutchev, Mikhail Putistin, Ivan Kuzmenko, Makar Honcharenko. To complete the squad, three players - Vladimir Balakin, Vasil Sukharev, Mikhail Melnyk - were recruited from Lokomotiv Kyiv.  Lokomotiv Kyiv, although older than Dynamo Kyiv - being founded in 1919 - played in a lower level league. The team would be called F.C. - Start - CTAPT in Russian.
The first game was played on June 7, 1942, against another Ukrainian team - “Rukh” - which “Start, City of Kyiv All-Stars” won 7-2.  Rumor has it that Rukh was a collaborationist team. The Start team wore red - the color of the Soviet flag - uniforms, as a symbol of defiance. Although others say that it was happenstance, because these were the only jerseys they could find in wartime Kyiv.
Two weeks later a team of Hungarian soldiers was defeated 6 - 2. On July 5, a team of Romanian soldiers fell 11 - 0. A week later a German army team was defeated 9 - 1. A second German army team - PGS - was blanked 6 - 0, on July 17.  As news of the team’s success against the occupation forces spread, attendance at Zenith Stadium increased to the point that the Germans began charging five roubles admission.
Now, things were getting serious. Hungary sent its best - MSG Wal. It was dispatched 5 - 1, on July 19 and 3 - 2 in a rematch two days later. In an effort to salvage Axis pride, the Luftwaffe challenged the untermenschen, and on August 6 met the same fate as all other challengers, falling 5 - 1.  The Luftwaffe team - named Flakelf - demanded a rematch, which was scheduled for August 9, 1942. It was advertized as the “REVENGE” (“REVANCHE”) match and would attract 2000 spectators. Kick-off was scheduled for 5:00 P.M.  The Luftwaffe team considered itself superior to all others.
Prior to the start of the match on August 9th, an SS officer entered the Start locker room and told the Start players, in impeccable Russian, “I am the referee of today’s game. I know you are a very good team. Please follow all the rules. Do not break any of the rules and before the game, greet your opponents in ‘our fashion.’”  “Our fashion” meant the Nazi salute accompanied by the slogan, “Heil Hitler!”  The Luftwaffe team also had a visitor, who told the players, “It is a special game and you have to win it to prove the superiority of the Aryan race.”
When the two teams took the field, the Luftwaffe team did as expected, and gave the Nazi salute and yelled “Heil Hitler!”  The Start players began to raise their arms only to pound them to their chest and yell, “fizcultura!” This was the Soviet sporting salute.  Start players realized that they were not going to get any of the calls - and they didn’t. The Germans scored their first goal after Trusevich, the Start goalie, went down from a kick to the head. Kuzmenko tied the score on a free kick. Honcharenko went coast-to-coast for the go-ahead score. Just before half-time, he took a pass from Kuzmenko and scored again, so that at half-time, Start was leading 3 - 1.  During half-time Start had several locker-room visitors who warned them of the consequences of winning. With the score 5 - 3, Klimenko got the ball, beat the entire German rear guard and walked around the German goalkeeper. Instead of scoring the goal, he turned and kicked the ball toward the center circle. With that, the SS referee blew the final whistle, even though time had yet to expire, and the game ended with Start leading 5 - 3.
Start played its last game on August 16, defeating Rukh, again, 8 - 0. Two days later, the Gestapo arrested eight of the players, accusing them of being NKVD agents. Two more players were arrested later. After 24 days of “interrogation,” seven were sent to Syrets Labor Camp, located in the Kyiv neighborhood of Syrets. Korotkykh, whose sister had identified him as a former NKVD officer, died during the “interrogation.” 
The “labor” camp was established in 1942, near Babi Yar, where more than 30,000 Jews had been murdered and buried the previous year. Paul Radomski was the camp commandant until November 28, when he was appointed commandant of Haidari camp near Athens.
On February 18, 1943, Trusevich, Kuzmenko and Klimenko were executed. Honcharenko and Putistin escaped on October 5, 1943. One reason that Svyridovskiy and Honcharenko survived was because they had a skill. Both were cobblers.
In 1974, a court in Hamburg opened an inquiry into the claim of the Soviets that the players were killed because Start beat the Axis teams. The investigation was finally closed in 2005, having been unable to substantiate that claim. More probably, they were killed because they were, in fact, NKVD, and/or Communist Party members.
The story “inspired” the 1981 movie “Escape to Victory,” starring Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and Sylvester Stallone.
In 1981, the name of Zenith Stadium was changed to “Start Stadium.”
The last surviving member of the team, Honcharenko, died in 1996.
 
NEXT WEEK: SURRENDER OF PANTELLERIA ISLAND
 
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.  Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.
 
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