Anticipating the post-Euro 2012 expat boom Will 2012 tournament lead to a game-changing increase in the number of expatriates calling Kyiv home?
Ukraine’s much-hyped European Championships debut is now just twelve months away and as the clock ticks down towards the big kick-off attention will remain firmly focused on the state of the country’s preparations. Will all the planned airports, stadiums and — most importantly from the perspective of UEFA bigwigs — five-star hotels be ready in time? Beyond the bricks and cement of raw infrastructure undertakings, Ukraine’s ability to successfully manage the tournament will also come under considerable scrutiny: do the country’s policemen and hospitality sector staff speak good enough English to interact with visiting fans? Are host city fan zone facilities up to scratch? Will relaxed lo¬cal attitudes towards alcoholic excess lead to disaster as football fans from all over Europe rush to experience the dubious pleasures of Ukrainian horilka?
All of the above are valid concerns ahead of Euro 2012, but for anyone living in Ukraine the longer-term implications of the tourna¬ment may be of greater interest. For the past twenty years Ukraine has been fighting a losing battle against obscurity but thanks to Euro 2012 the country will finally have the opportunity to showcase its charms to an unprecedented audience numbering in the hun¬dreds of thousands. Once the tournament is over, will these hordes of largely young adult males really leave Ukraine preoccupied with negative impressions about poor service standards and the country’s often rudementary infrastructure? It seems highly unlikely — these are football fans we are talking about, not snooty CEOs on a fact-finding mission. Instead, visiting fans will likely be dazzled by the natural sun-kissed splendor of Ukraine in June, bowled over by the laid-back local hospitality they encounter and hopelessly seduced by the country’s ladies. The end result could very well be a sharp rise in the number of European men looking to make Ukraine their expat home-from-home.
Ukraine’s current expat population is relatively small compared to the far larger communities in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania and even Russia. However, one of the unique characteristics of the Ukrainian expat scene is the apparent randomness of this community. Perhaps as many as half of all expats currently living in Ukraine first arrived in the country for a limited period — typically for a specific business meeting or short-term contract — only to fall in love with this relatively unknown corner of Europe. Having come to Ukraine with low expectations and with a short stay in mind, they found themselves putting down roots and becoming proud to join the small but growing band of foreigners who love this perculiar land, warts and all. The make-up of Ukraine’s expat community is proof positive that exposure to the country can prove highly intoxicating and lead to life-changing decisions. It is impossible to speculate on how many Euro 2012 fans will be similarly seduced by Ukraine, but it seems reasonable to assume that the figure will be well into the thousands. This influx is unlikely to be spread evenly among Ukraine’s four Euro 2012 host cities — even the most optimistic Donbass loyalist would find it hard to imagine queues of budding expats lining up to purchase summer homes in sunny Donetsk. However, while the country’s two eastern capitals will struggle to win over long-term admirers, both Lviv and Kyiv can expect to be overrun with new expat arrivals in the aftermath of Euro 2012. Kyiv’s current expat population is thought to number around 10,000 but this figure could be vastly inflated by the post-Euro 2012 effect, while the impact on Lviv could be even more dramatic. Lviv’s European feel and close proximity to the EU make it the obvious choice for the next generation of expats and it is a good bet that the West Ukrainian capital will end up being the country’s biggest Euro 2012 winner.