Ukraine should prove to be a memorable spectacle
DEFYING YEARS of gloomy predictions, Ukraine has already completed its four Euro 2012 stadiums, but questions remain over how fans will get to games and where they will sleep afterwards.
Impressive arenas await visitors to Kiev, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv next year, but Europe’s second-largest country has yet to convince Uefa that its transport infrastructure can efficiently shuttle tens of thousands of people between matches and that its hotels can provide them with beds.
Uefa’s Euro 2012 Operations Director Martin Kallen said this month; “It will be a different Euro. On the football side, we want it to be on the same level or a little better than Austria-Switzerland in 2008. But it will never be on the same level in terms of transport.”
Ukraine has invested relatively little money in its road and rail network since the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, and journeys by car, bus or train between venues will be long and slow – although the overnight trains between Kiev and the other three host cities could offer an affordable, convenient and memorable way to criss-cross the country.
However, given the creaking infrastructure and the size of Ukraine – as an indicator, Group B matches will be played in Lviv and Kharkiv, 1,000 km apart – most fans will arrive and travel between games by plane.
Each of the host cities is building or redeveloping an airport terminal for the competition, in anticipation of a surge in passenger numbers on scheduled flights and to cope with more than 100 special charter services that are expected to arrive on match days.
These charter flights will also be used to take pressure off cities that do not have enough hotel space to accommodate fans, allowing them to fly in for the match and return afterwards to Kiev or even Warsaw, the two venues with the most plentiful beds.
Ukraine has a dearth of solid, affordable, mid-range hotels and, though some are being built to fill the yawning gap between luxury palaces and dingy Soviet-era throwbacks, the hunt for accommodation during 2012 could prove challenging.
Kiev plans to create big campsites for visitors, and resourceful locals in all the host cities are sure to rent out rooms in their own homes, offering guests a taste of real Ukrainian life, food, drink and hospitality.
Mr Kallen said that as regards accommodation “the worst situation is in Donetsk”, which will host a quarter-final and a semi-final but is thousands of beds short of the required number.
“We are working with Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and the mayor of Donetsk to arrange charter flights from Kiev to those matches,” the Uefa official added. While Ukraine will have work to do right up until Kharkiv hosts the country’s first match on June 9th next year, there is huge relief that all four stadiums are already complete.
In October, President Viktor Yanukovich reopened the Olympic Stadium in Kiev after a huge renovation that ran some five times over its original €110 million budget; last week, Ukraine’s national team played out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Germany at the ground.
The stadium of the Metalist Kharkiv club has undergone extensive modernisation, while the Lviv Arena was built from scratch and this week welcomed Austria for a friendly that Ukraine clinched 2-1 with a dramatic injury-time winner. Only the stunning Donbas Arena, home of 2009 Uefa Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk, needed no improvement for Euro 2012.
With their stadiums complete, Ukraine’s host cities are sprucing themselves in preparation for the arrival of thousands of foreign guests and the scrutiny of the world’s media. Swathes of Kiev and Lviv are undergoing renovation, to the bemusement of locals who for years watched their cities crumble due to under-investment and neglect, and who now marvel at the money and effort being frantically thrown at last-minute beautification projects.
Some plans to tidy up the host cities have already caused controversy, including what animal protection groups say is an inhumane cull of stray dogs, and moves by Kiev officials to stop locals using their balconies to store bric-a-brac, hang out the washing or sunbathe in skimpy outfits.
“Here we are planning to spend colossal amounts on lighting up buildings,” said Kiev’s chief architect Serhiy Tselovalnik.
“But imagine, we then have Uncle Vasya out in his underpants on the balcony, where people keep wash basins, sledges, skis and dirty clothes – we hardly want to illuminate all this ‘beauty’ too.” On and off the pitch, Euro 2012 in Ukraine should be a memorable spectacle.
Ukraine: Where west meets east
If Donetsk and Kharkiv look to Russia, Lviv in western Ukraine has closer links with nearby Poland and the European Union. This region is more agricultural than industrial, Ukrainian language and culture are strong and the city itself is a careworn central European beauty that was once part of the Polish and Habsburg kingdoms.
Without the support of a billionaire oligarch, doubts surrounded Lviv’s ability to build its new 34,915-capacity stadium, but it hosted its first match this week.
Perhaps a controversial choice of venue over the more obviously enticing Odessa on the Black Sea, this major industrial centre near the Russian border is Ukraine’s second-largest city and home to about 1.5 million people.
Its main football team, Metalist Kharkiv, is owned by another of Ukraine’s wealthiest tycoons, Oleksandr Yaroslavsky.
He funded a major overhaul of the now 38,633-capacity Metalist Stadium.
It’s easy to get a decent meal for the equivalent of €10 in a Ukrainian bar or restaurant, and a very good slap-up meal can easily be had for €30. On the other hand, food and drinks can be extremely expensive in upmarket hotels and restaurants.
Ukrainian beer is good and foreign beers are widely available. Depending where you’re drinking, prices range from about €1 to €5 for a pint. Vodka is dangerously cheap.
It is hard to find a good hotel in Ukrainian cities for a reasonable price, but promises of new mid-range hotels being ready for Euro 2012 may improve the situation. Short-term apartment rentals are probably the best bet for groups of fans.
Home to about three million people, Ukraine’s capital is magnificent in summer, when the pavement cafes are full, boats ply the majestic Dnieper river and the city slows to become a stroller’s delight of tree-lined streets, spacious parks and historic gold-domed monasteries.
The Euro 2012 final will be held at the Olympic Stadium – which first opened in 1923 as the Trotsky Red Stadium – and has now been renovated and holds 70,050 spectators.
This city of some one million people is a coal-mining hub near the border with Russia, and Russian is the dominant language here in the Donbas region, birthplace and power base of President Viktor Yanukovich.
Shakhtar Donetsk (“shakhtar” means “miner”) is owned by one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov, who also happens to be a member of Mr Yanukovich’s party. The billionaire built the €300 million, 51,504-capacity Donbas Arena.