22. Soviet Authorities Knowingly Pushed a False Narrative About the “Death Match”
The misfortune that befell the Ukrainian Start FC soccer players was, indeed, triggered by sore losers. However, they were Ukrainian sore losers, not German ones. Members of another Ukrainian team, that had been whipped by Start 8 to 0, informed the Germans that several Start players were former NKVD – the dreaded Soviet secret police, and a forerunner of the KGB. Of the eight Start FC players picked up by the Gestapo, five were eventually murdered. However, their deaths were unrelated to their performance on the pitch and had more to do with their activities off the pitch.
Some of the arrested and murdered Start FC players, being former NKVD, were suspected of having engaged in recent partisan sabotage activities against the German occupation. Engaging in resistance activity against the Nazi occupiers was heroic in itself, but not as dramatic as the “Death Match” narrative. Soviet authorities, eager to portray the heroism of the civilian populace during the war, chose to jazz up the story and went with a false narrative. After the war, the “Match” inspired a popular Soviet novel, and a hit movie, Third Time. As to the murdered Start FC players, they are commemorated in various monuments, including a statue in front of Dynamo Kyiv’s stadium.