The Persha Liha (Ukrainian: Перша ліга) or Ukrainian First League is a football league in Ukraine and the second tier of national football competitions. Members of the league also participate in the Ukrainian Cup. Unlike the Ukrainian Premier League, Persha Liha does not conduct a parallel tournament for junior teams of its clubs.
The very first round of games that took place for this league was on March 14, 1992. The league itself was organized just a few months before that and consisted mostly of those clubs that previously competed in the Soviet Second League (see Ukrainian Soviet competitions). To the league were also added some second squads of the Vyshcha Liha clubs and the best performers of the Soviet amateur level of competition, KFK (Fitness clubs). The Persha Liha (First League) is lower than the Vyscha Liha (Supreme League) (currently known as the Ukrainian Premier League) and is the second division of the Ukrainian professional football league system.
The First League was incorporated into the PFL organization that combined all the football leagues of non-amateur clubs (Supreme, First, and Second). On May 26, 1996 the Constituent Conference of non-amateur clubs took place which created the professional league, and confirmed its statute as well as its administration. Most of the clubs that had previously participated in the Ukrainian football league competitions were reorganized as professional, a process that actually started in the late 1980s. On July 17 the professional league signed an agreement with several other national football organizations to organize competitions among the professional clubs (its members). According to the newspaper Halychyna (Ivano-Frankivsk) the annual budget of league's clubs varied between 6 mln to 30 mln hryvnias in 2010.
The League officially became the top league of the Professional Football League (PFL) from April 15, 2008 when the Ukrainian Premier League reorganized itself into a self-governed entity. Usually the top two teams from the First League are promoted to the Premier League, while the two lowest teams from the Premier League are demoted to the First League. Because each club is only allowed to be represented with a single squad per each league, the second squad's promotion often is voided, thus, allowing the promotion of the third placed club during a season. One of the most successful second squads is of Dynamo Kyiv (FC Dynamo-2 Kyiv).
During its short history the number of members in the league has fluctuated. However, in recent years it has more or less stabilized at 18. In its first years the league consisted of 20 or more participants. Later there was an idea to decrease the number of members in all leagues in order to improve the quality of competition. The amount of relegated clubs was changing also almost annually and several times reaching up to five. Since the latest reorganization of the Second League it has remained at two clubs being demoted. For the 2010-11 season it was decided to return to the three club relegation principal involving relegation play-offs. The relegation or promotion play-offs were previously usually organized under unforeseen circumstances such as a team's withdrawal from the league and often were not scheduled until after the season had concluded. Since the turn of the millennium the frequency of withdrawals in the First League has increased among the competing clubs. Concurrently with this, the league now applies a stricter approach to every club's financial situation and support in order to participate at this level and avoid those withdrawals during the season. Since the 2009-10 season the First League has started to broadcast select matches over the internet in order to increase its popularity.
The most successful club in the league is the second squad of Dynamo Kyiv. Out of non-second squads the most successful are Zakarpattya Uzhhorod (two 1st place and two 2nds) and Zirka Kirovohrad (two 1st places). Zirka, however, went through some reorganizations in the 2000s after going into bankruptcy. A couple of seasons afterwards it returned to the competitions. Pointswise over the whole history the other two teams that follow Dynamo-2 Kyiv are Naftovyk Okhtyrka and Stal Alchevsk. The second squad of the militiamen (Dynamo) is the only team that has participated in every single season in the Ukrainian First League. Naftovyk Okhtyrka and Stal Alchevsk have missed two and three seasons respectively.