In a thrilling culmination of Ukraine’s captivating second division season (Persha Liha), an extraordinary football story unfolded with Polissya Zhytomyr emerging as the champions. With an unprecedented feat, they secured their long-awaited spot in the upper echelons of Ukrainian football. With a jubilant ripple spreading across Ukraine, this remarkable achievement sends waves of excitement. Zhytomyr Oblast, renowned for nurturing football legends like Yuriy Vernydub, Ruslan Malinovksyi, and Oleksandr Zinchenko, has long awaited the presence of a team from the oblast in the Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) and now the time has come for Zhytomyr fans.
Zhytomyr holds a remarkable place in Ukrainian history, briefly serving as the national capital of the Ukrainian People’s Republic during the period of independence from 1917 to 1920. The football club also takes its name from the local region, Polissya, which aptly translates to “the wooded area” in English. Established in 1959, Polissya is only now emerging as a prominent force within the country’s football landscape.
Throughout its history, Polissya Zhytomyr has predominantly languished in the lower divisions of Ukrainian football, where it has faced numerous challenges and endured its fair share of setbacks. Perhaps the most notable achievement in Polissya Zhytomyr’s journey came in 1967 when they became champions of the Ukrainian SSR. Polissya was previously owned by the Zhytomyr City Council, which decided to revive the club in 2016 after the original club went bankrupt in 2005.
Significant changes in the club’s financial landscape occurred in the mid-2021 period when it began receiving financial backing from the BGV Group. The BGV Group, a prominent investment company, is primarily involved in rare mineral mining and boasts ownership of the Kolo supermarket chain. Notably, they hold ownership of the Perzhansk beryllium mine located in Zhytomyr Oblast. This injection of financial support has brought stability and opportunity for growth to FC Polissya Zhytomyr. Leading the charge as the President of FC Polissya is Hennadiy Butkevych, who also serves as the owner of the popular ATB supermarket chain, which is the largest supermarket chain in Ukraine.
With improved financing in 2021, the club began signing several free agents from Ukraine’s top league, signaling the club was serious about making it to Ukraine’s highest level of football in the future. Instead of indulging in costly acquisitions of renowned players, the club has demonstrating a steadfast commitment to nurturing young talent.
For example, in January, the club signed a promising talent named Borys Krushynskyi, who is only 20 years old. He already has experience playing in the top league with FC Lviv. What makes Polissya different from most other clubs in the Persha Liha and even Ukraine’s premier league is their transfer policy. While many clubs choose to sign free agents and then release players who are no longer favored, Polissya can afford to and does spend money on transfer fees.
Taras, the founder of TryzubFootball, stated that “In contrast to numerous clubs reliant on wealthy investors, Polissya stands out by demonstrating a well-thought-out strategy for the club’s development. This gives me great confidence that Polissya will experience significant growth and become increasingly significant in Ukrainian football as time progresses. Their recent acquisitions of promising talents such as Mykytyuk, Jarju, and Krushynskyi are essential, considering that many key players are reaching the later stages of their footballing careers.”
Now that Polissya has achieved a long-awaited promotion to the Ukrainian Premier League, a fresh chapter begins, sparking excitement and heightened anticipation. Pundits are eagerly anticipating the influx of additional funding, which is poised to transform Polissya into a formidable force in the league. The club has set its sights on securing a coveted spot in European football in the coming seasons.
In April, the club appointed Yuriy Makysmov as the new sporting director of FC Polissya Zhytomyr. Makysmov is a respected Ukrainian footballing figure who played for the German Bundesliga club Werder Bremen in the late 1990s and was a relatively successful coach for FC Vorskla Poltava. Polissya has also recently made its first-ever international transfer in the club’s history, signing Gambia U20 CB Moses Jarju, also regarded as one of the most talented players in the Gambian league.
However, the reality remains that, like many Ukrainian football clubs, Polissya is reliant on the support of wealthy benefactors. If, for any reason, these patrons choose to withdraw their funding, even esteemed and historic clubs can face a perilous fate, as exemplified by the unfortunate demise of FC Dnipro, which reached the Europa League final in 2015 but ultimately dissolved in 2019.
According to Andrew Todos, a Ukrainian football expert and founder of Zorya Londonsk stated that “There are hopes and expectations that the club could become a new challenging force in the UPL. One that within a few seasons can directly take on the teams vying for the title and Champions League spots due to the large investments of owner Butkevych and his lofty ambitions of the club.”
As the city of Zhytomyr revels in the festivities to honor Polissya’s long-awaited promotion to the Ukrainian Premier League, a sense of excitement permeates the air. Ukrainian football fans across the nation eagerly await the unfolding of the club’s journey in the top flight. Amid Russia’s relentless genocidal war against Ukraine, Polissya’s monumental promotion emerges as a triumphant achievement, providing temporary refuge and solace for Ukrainian football fans.
David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press. He can be found on Twitter @DVKirichenko.