Euro 2012 Fan Guide Ukrainian Host Cities
Host Nation Ukraine: what awaits visiting Euro 2012 fans?
Ukrainian officials are expecting to welcome over 800,000 visitors during this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament – a figure which could easily rise if national teams with the largest support bases make it to the latter stages of the competition. This unprecedented influx will expose previously obscure Ukraine to international audiences like never before, testing the country’s infrastructure to the limits while showcasing its unique charms. Euro fans will no doubt encounter all manner of quirks and inconveniences while in Ukraine, but there is likely to be more than enough entertainment and exotica on show to guarantee that most fans leave Ukraine with a smile on their faces. Ultimately, low expectations are expected to work decisively in Ukraine’s favour. For the past two decades the country’s international image has suffered from a toxic mix of anonymity and negativity, but this low bar will now finally work to Ukraine’s advantage, creating an army of easily impressed new arrivals harbouring the most modest of expectations.
To those who’ve lived in Ukraine since the monotone early post-Soviet era, the infrastructure improvements of the past few years can sometimes seem remarkable. However, to visiting Euro fans this collection of humdrum highways, identikit airport terminals and extravagant football stadiums will seem like a drop in a very Soviet ocean. The biggest initial infrastructure problems are likely to be encountered at the country’s notoriously officious and unhurried passport control points. While Ukraine’s airports have recently seen their theoretical capacity vastly increased by Euro 2012-related expansion projects, the new facilities have so far singularly failed to eradicate the disorder and delays which continue to accompany arrival into the country. There is potential for similar bottlenecks at West Ukraine’s land borders with Poland as hordes of fans make their way into the country via road and rail. Many believe that after a few days of passport control chaos, the Ukrainian authorities will be forced to throw caution to the wind and temporarily open the floodgates, but the country’s Euro 2012 organisers continue to assure us that such drastic measures will not prove necessary. Once inside Ukraine, Euro fans will no doubt be struck by the poor state of the country’s road networks and the shabby condition of Ukraine’s Soviet-era housing. There will be inevitable – and inevitably unfavourable – comparisons with Poland. There will also inevitably be much kitsch delight in some of the more strikingly Soviet aspects of Ukraine’s everyday infrastructure. Euro fans travelling by rail will no doubt revel in the Old School Soviet stewardess service and communal drinking rituals of the overnight train to Kyiv, while recoiling in horror from the public toilets found along the way in some of Ukraine’s more picturesque railway towns. Hospitality Ukrainians pride themselves on their world - beating spirit of hospitality and Euro 2012 is likely to prove them right. Local hospitality traditions run deep in Ukraine and are rich in Cossack lore – to the extent that visitors can sometimes feel over-obliged to indulge. Thousands of Ukrainian service sector workers are currently undergoing special training to make sure this reputation as great hosts remains intact. Judging by the initial results, this training seems to have focused almost exclusively on learning how to smile. Perhaps this is no bad thing - foreign guests often misinterpret the traditional Ukrainian reticence for public displays of emotion, ending up with the false impression that everybody in the country is terminally miserable. This ‘Soviet Scowl’ syndrome - the polar
opposite of America’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ culture – is merely a local cultural nuance, but a few more smiles will certainly help make arriving Euro fans feel more welcome.
Ukraine’s hoteliers have come in for much criticism in recent months thanks to the sheer scale of the price hikes they have introduced for Euro 2012. These accusations appear largely justified, with examples of 500% and 1000% increases abounding. Once ensconced in their over-priced hotel rooms, Euro fans will be left to marvel at the audacity of charging so much for so little while pondering the mysteries of the Ukrainian economy. Those who have rented apartments will fare somewhat better - both in terms of amenities and budgets – but the danger remains that thousands of would be Euro 2012 visitors will be put off by the extortionate rates currently being demanded. On this occasion, Ukraine’s post-Soviet addiction to short-term thinking could end up costing the country dearly.
The language barrier will be the biggest headache for most visiting fans. Despite high-profile efforts to boost English language skills among Ukraine’s police officers, customs officials and hotel staff, we can still expect major shortfalls. This language barrier raises the stakes for the police, who could find themselves faced with large groups of rival fans with no common language or way of making their orders understood. The Cyrillic alphabet will serve as a further barrier – alienating visitors with a strong sense of inscrutable and obscure otherness. Of Ukraine’s host cities, Lviv has the most significant inroads into this alphabet issue, erecting English language street signs in 2010. Others have since followed suit with bilingual Ukrainian/English tourism information points. No doubt when the tournament finally arrives we will see a mad rush to erect makeshift English-language signs outside bars and restaurants all over the country, but nevertheless one can’t help thinking that a rare opportunity to tangibly ‘Europeanize’ street-level Ukraine has been allowed to slip away.
International football has long been viewed by many as an excuse to engage in the kind of national stereotyping and xenophobia which has long since been shunned from polite company. However, when it comes to perceptions of Ukraine it appears that ambiguity reigns supreme. One of the few advantages of Ukraine’s enduring obscurity is the fact that it has enabled the country to avoid collecting many notable international enemies or rivals, with the possible exceptions of Poland and Russia. With Russia playing their group stage ties in Poland this summer, there is consequently little room for the poison of historical animosity to creep into Ukraine’s Euro 2012 experience. One potential historical flashpoint will be the extended presence of large numbers of German fans in Ukraine throughout the group stages of the competition. Anti-racism campaigners are concerned that Ukraine and Poland’s Far Right groups may seek to hijack Euro 2012 matches, but it is actually far like-lier that German fans themselves will be subjected to insensitive remarks and mocking Hitler salutes from locals oblivious to the sensitivity towards such things in modern Europe. There remains the danger that Ukraine’s politicians may themselves try to thrust their agendas into the temporary Euro limelight, but any attempt to use the tournament as a vehicle for domestic political positioning would almost definitely fall on deaf ears. Most visiting fans will have little comprehension of the issues at stake and even less interest in getting involved. For the majority of Euro fans the mere existence of Ukraine will be a fascinating enough revelation – invitations to explore the country’s byzantine politics and ongoing memory wars should probably be left to a later date.
Thanks to the nation’s passion for alcohol-fuelled public holidays and recent history of often rowdy street politics, the Ukrainian security services can probably boast of having unrivalled experience in the management of large crowds of drunkards. This know-how will come in handy during Euro 2012 with visiting fans especially prone to becoming carried away by laissez faire local attitudes toward binge drinking. There will inevitably be much
initial enthusiasm for local vodka as arriving fans rush for the authenticity of genuine Soviet-style spirits. Shot glass sets will be snapped up accordingly and Euro fans will mimic the toasting ritual favoured by local drinkers as they pose for their facebook walls.
Past expat experience would strongly suggest that there will be many casualties amid all this vodka-soaked bonhomie. Potential ailments will range from acute alcohol poisoning to broken bones and possibly even fatalities, not to mention bruised egos, sore heads and denuded bank accounts. On a lighter note, despite the iconic value attached to Ukrainian vodka by visiting Euro fans, beer will probably remain the drink of choice for visiting fans. Here Ukraine is on firmer ground and the country’s generally excellent lagers can be confident of a universally favourable reception.
Every expat who ever set foot in Ukraine can testify to the stupefying effect of the country’s ladies on the average Western male. The debate over exactly what makes Ukraine’s women so special continues to rumble on enthusiastically in expat pubs across the land, but whatever the underlying causes behind this phenomenon, it has long been apparent that Ukrainian ladies in general carry an allure which many men in the post-modern Western world find utterly irresistible.
The evidence on the ground has consistently shown this to be the case for the past 20 years - it is certainly no coincidence that the country’s expat community today is probably more than 90% male. Predictably, almost all these expats are married Ukrainian wives or involved with Ukrainian girlfriends. There is little reason to believe that Euro 2012 will not repeat this pattern, albeit on a much grander scale. After all, the typical football fan at major international tournaments like Euro 2012 tends to be young, male and not entirely immune to romantic overtures. This is a patently dangerous demographic to be introducing in such large numbers to an environment as sexually charged and flirt-friendly as modern Ukraine. With time of the essence and the Euro 2012 window of opportunity set to remain open for just a few weeks, we can expect fireworks. Once the dust has settled, the end result will likely be an unprecedented boom in international marriages and the emergence of a whole new generation of Ukraine-based sexpats. Meanwhile, the big secret about Ukrainian girls will finally be out of the bag and Europe will have a new stereotype to play with.
Euro 2012 Host City Guide: Lviv
Lviv Of all Ukraine’s host cities, Lviv is probably the most excited about Euro 2012. This sense of excitement is largely due to the widespread belief that the city has the most to gain from the championships. Leopolitans believe that their native town enjoys a number of in-built Euro advantages over Ukraine’s other hosts, including close geographical proximity to the EU (less than 70KM from the Schengen border) and a deeply embedded European cultural heritage which stands totally at odds with Left Bank Ukraine’s heavily Russified inheritance. Most of all, they are counting on Lviv’s stunning architectural ensemble to delight visiting Euro fans and provide a major boost to the city’s already impressive tourism industry.
History: from gateway city to nationalist bastion Founded in the middle of the thirteenth century by one of the great figures of medieval Ukrainian history – King Danylo Halytskiy – and named after his son Lev, for centuries Lviv was one of Eastern Europe’s great gateway cities and most coveted possessions. Then came the horrors of the 20th century and a period of enforced Soviet isolation from which the city is only now beginning to recover. Nevertheless, this European pedigree remains very much in evidence and has left a unique architectural imprint on Lviv which gives the city its fairytale ambience. Lviv is considered so European by other Ukrainians that they visit the city as tourists in their thousands, often claiming to feel like they’ve arrived in a foreign country. This European environment is a source of understandable pride for Lviv locals, but Euro 2012 fans preparing for their visit to the city this summer will likely hear more about Lviv’s politics than its architecture. Today’s Lviv is synonymous with Ukrainian nationalism, having been home to most of the country’s patriotic fronts for the past century.
It currently serves as both the high brow champion of Ukraine’s cultural identity and the low brow stage for the country’s Far Right fringe politics. This is a curious fate for a city which for the vast majority of its 750 years of existence had previously been a borderland capital noted for its religious and ethnic diversity. Indeed, in the past hundred years alone the city has been known as Lemberg, Lwow, Lvov and Lviv as it passed from Habsburg to Polish, Nazi and Soviet rule before finally falling into Ukrainian hands in 1991. The totalitarian horrors of the 20th century were particularly cruel on Lviv, with the city’s once huge Polish and Jewish communities all but eradicated and the locally dominant Greek Catholic Church forced to become the world’s largest underground religion until the final collapse of Soviet power. Throughout this turbulent period nationalist movements repeatedly sprung up among Lviv’s Ukrainian community, which had spent centuries as one of the largest ethnic groups in a city perpetually ruled by foreign powers. A Ukrainian Republic was first declared in Lviv in 1918, only to be snuffed out by the resurgent Poles, who were at the time fresh from their own national rebirth and who would go on to give the Bolsheviks a bloody nose. Lviv’s Ukrainian nationalists spent the next two decades bristling under Warsaw rule before declaring a new Ukrainian state in 1941 and making common cause with Hitler’s invading armies, having first suffered the horrors of Red Army occupation during the initial two years of WWII. This German alliance soon soured, leaving Lviv’s nationalist insurgents to fight a devastating three-way guerilla war throughout West Ukraine against Nazi, Soviet and Polish forces. This dirty war rumbled on into the early 1950s before the Red Army was finally able to subdue the region. Some would say the campaign is still being fought today in the country’s political arena, where it serves as a huge bone of contention between Ukrainian nationalists and the country’s Soviet sympathizers.
Modern Lviv is rightly regarded as the spiritual centre and primary driving force behind these efforts to rehabilitate Ukraine’s WWII-era nationalist insurgents and counter decades of Soviet and post-Soviet official histories which have branded them as fascist traitors. This lead role in the country’s modern political narrative has undeniably amplified Lviv’s nationalistic tendencies, at times drowning out much of the multicultural background music which actually gives the city its unique soul. Nevertheless, it is this cosmopolitan inheritance and not the city’s modern-day identity politics which will strike the average Euro 2012 visitor upon arrival.
A living museum: Lviv’s architectural treasure trove
Downtown Lviv is a chocolate box selection of different architectural styles and epochs laid out in an elegantly random fashion. Amid the Habsburg, the Baroque and the Renaissance facades, Viennese coffee culture sits easily alongside German boutique malls and Czech beer bars. The sheer style of the place will likely to prove a major surprise for Euro fans expecting to arrive in some kind of barren Soviet border town. Instead, they will find themselves in a uniquely cosmopolitan city which in many ways will look reassuringly familiar. The entire city centre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List – Lviv as a whole accounts for over half of Ukraine’s entries on the global list. Highlights include an exquisite renaissance Italian courtyard and an ancient Armenian Cathedral, but in truth there are too many treasures to catalogue. Cobbled streets and elegant archways lead off in every direction, with unexpected delights around every corner. A medieval chapel adorned in stunning frescos hidden away in a
secluded side street, a bombastic Polish Palace perched next to a row of 1920s Art Deco town-houses, or any one of the city centre’s thousand and one ornate stone balconies, each a work of art in its own right.
Eurasian crossroads: Lviv as regional hub
Lviv International Airport was officially unveiled in April 2012 and its operational arrival is a huge boost to Lviv’s Euro 2012 preparations. But while thousands will fly to the city for Euro matches, many more will arrive by road and rail from nearby Poland – especially fans of Germany and Denmark, both of whom play twice in Lviv. Fans of other national teams will also pass through Lviv on their way to destinations far to the east – to Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk – places which will seem impossibly exotic to many untraveled young Euro football fans. As the point of entry into Ukraine for all non-air traffic, Lviv will once more albeit briefly – take up its historic role as Eastern Europe’s great borderland hub.
Cozy side streets and capacity crowds
Once in Lviv, fans can expect to encounter Ukraine’s most Euro-savvy tourism industry. While knowledge of Euro standards does not always necessarily translate into adherence, the Lviv tourist trade is nevertheless in many ways light years ahead of the rest of the country in terms of service standards and customer-driven innovation. These advantages may be offset by the obstacles presented by medieval Lviv’s lack of wide open spaces. The city’s cen-
tral boulevard – Prospekt Svobody – will serve as one of the natural focuses for large groups of Euro 2012 fans, as will Lviv’s picture postcard Market Square. However, there are concerns that central Lviv’s warrens of cobbled side streets may prove ill-equipped to deal with large crowds of football fans possibly numbering into the tens of thousands.
Lviv at a glance
Euro 2012 stadium: Lviv Arena
June 9 : Germany vs Portugal (19:00)
June 13: Denmark vs Portugal (21:45)
June 17: Denmark vs Germany (21:45)
City symbol: The lion (‘Lviv’ means ‘Lion City’)
How Lviv sees itself: the heart and soul of Ukraine, a city of unrivalled beauty steeped in the
very finest of European cultural traditions.
What the detractors say: a nationalist hotbed of xenophobic extremism made all the more unbearable by fanciful notions of European superiority.
Local legend: nineteenth century deviant author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose erotic novels gave rise to the concept of Masochism, lived and wrote in Lviv for much of his life. The German literary legend was by no means the last expat male to find himself driven to distraction by Lviv’s ladies but he remains the most famous.
Worth the walk: Vysokiy Zamok (literally ‘High Castle’). This hilltop viewing station in the city centre is quite a trek but it offers stunning views of the Lviv panorama.
Danish Diaspora: due to some curious quirk of fate, the Danish make up the largest single expat community in today’s Lviv and dominate the local international business community, making the city a potential home from home for visiting Danish fans during Euro 2012.
Take a seat: Lviv is a notoriously laidback city where nobody is in a hurry and even the
statues like to take the weight off their feet. The most famous seated sculptures in today’s
Lviv are the seated Christ figure which adorns a chapel in one corner of Rynok Square and the even more unusual sitting statue of liberty, which can be seen slouching on the skyline opposite the city’s central Shevchenko monument.
Euro 2012 Host City Guide: Donetsk
Donetsk is in the ascendency these days and Euro 2012 will give the city the opportunity to demonstrate its recent progress to the outside world. With the city’s leading politicians exercising a firm grip on power in Kyiv and local team Shakhtar Donetsk successfully ousting Dynamo Kyiv from their perennial position as Ukraine’s number one football club, the city is enjoying something of a golden age. The star attraction during Donetsk’s Euro 2012 debut will undoubtedly be the Donbass Arena itself, which is arguably one of Europe’s most eye-catching stadiums. Visiting fans are also likely to rave about the city’s unrivalled ensemble of kitsch Soviet monuments including Ukraine’s largest surviving Lenin.
History: from Welsh origins to Soviet showpiece
At less than one hundred and fifty years of age Donetsk is one of Ukraine’s youngest cities, yet it serves as the undisputed capital and seat of power for Ukraine’s densely populated industrial heartlands, dominating an area and population comparable in size to the average European country. This region – known as the Donbass – is a largely mud and vodka affair of prefab Soviet-era housing and dreary one-horse towns sitting in the shadow of vast industrial enterprises. It is a region almost totally devoid of historical reference points - the few scattered relics of bygone settlements that predated the foundation of Donetsk itself were largely destroyed in the devastation of WWII. Today’s landscape is of an almost exclusively Soviet vintage. All roads lead to Donetsk in this brave new world, and the city commands considerable loyalty among the denizens of the Donbass.
Frontier town in Europe’s Wild East
Donetsk was founded in 1869 by a Welshman – John Hughes - who acquired a plot of land as part payment for some engineering work which he had carried out for the Russian Imperial court. His initial plan was to establish a metal works in the region. The project involved shiploads of engineer-colonists from England who brought with them the very latest in industrial revolution ingenuity. It proved a huge success and the city which arose around the plant was named ‘Hughesovka’ in honour of its enterprising Welsh founder. These relatively cosmopolitan beginnings were not as out of place as they might now appear when viewed against the somewhat monotone Soviet backdrop of today’s city. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Russian Empire had actively encouraged European colonisation of south-east Ukraine, which was known in the imperial parlance of the time as ‘New Russia’. Colonies of Germans, Greeks, Dutch and Scandinavians began to dot the empty spaces of the southern steppe as Russia sought to populate its new possessions, and so the arrival of a Welsh empire-builder might not actually have appeared particularly outlandish at the time. In many ways Donetsk in its early years was Europe’s Wild East, attracting the same mix of prospectors, entrepreneurs, carpetbaggers and scoundrels as America’s more famous cowboy country. Hughes was one of the relatively few who chose to head east instead of west, but he was by far not the only adventurer attracted by the promise of New Russia.
Bastion of Bolshevik internationalism
All this changed with the onset of the Bolshevik revolution, which marked the end of Donetsk’s
early internationalism and the beginning of its reinvention as a standard-bearer of the proletarian revolution. In the chaos of the early Bolshevik years the city became a magnet for the countless thousands whose lives had been uprooted by the revolution - its huge factories swallowed up workers as quickly as they could present themselves, offering the sanctuary of anonymity and an honest day’s pay. As if to underline its importance to the emerging communist empire, the city was renamed Stalino and given a lead role in the dictatorship’s plans to overtake the decadent capitalist powers. While Stalinist terror stalked the moonlit streets and forced famine ravaged the Ukrainian countryside, the population of Donetsk quadrupled in size in the space of a decade, rising to almost half a million. The city’s population was further boosted by major influxes in the immediate post-war years and following the relaxation of the gulag prison camp system in the wake of Stalin’s death. This rapid growth was fuelled by immigration from all over the former Russian Empire, creating an ethnic melting pot which can only be compared to the great disembarkation points of the New World.
Proud of the past: proletarian passions still run deep
Donetsk citizens today like to boast that it is a city of a thousand nationalities, and this lack of deeper historical roots is perhaps one of the key factors which has led locals to cling all the more enthusiastically to their Soviet identity. The other compelling reason why the Soviet identity has proved so enduring for Donetsk residents is the status which it implies. In Soviet times the workers of the Donbass region were lionized across the USSR as the epitome of proletarian pride and communist righteousness. The region’s miners were singled out for particular praise and placed at the very top of the Soviet propaganda Parthenon, enjoying enormous social prestige as well as relatively high salaries and plenty of additional perks. With few Donbass residents able to trace their ancestry back further than two or three generations and memories of enhanced Soviet status still a central part of the local lore, it is little wonder that the region has earned a reputation as the modern-day home of Homo Sovieticus.
Donbass Arena: a symbol of regional rejuvenation
Visiting Euro 2012 fans will not find a vast array of tourist attractions awaiting them in Donetsk. The city has some passable parks and is a pleasant enough place to stroll in the summer months, but there is next to nothing of historical interest and very little to break up the horizon other than the coal mine slag heaps which seem to hang over the city. Euro arrivals will be entertained to discover that Donetsk boasts the best collection of Soviet-era statues and monuments in modern Ukraine – including a giant Lenin and some rather splendid gold-painted figures who adorn the city’s central boulevard. The highlight of the city’s Euro 2012 attractions will inevitably by the Donbass Arena itself, which sits in splendid isolation in a downtown landscaped park – looking for all the world like a giant UFO. The stadium is the work of Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov, a Donbass native tycoon who mixes his business interests with a passion for local club Shakhtar Donetsk. Since becoming president of the club in the mid 1990s, Akhmetov has set about system-atically transforming Shakhtar into an elite European football club. He has invested large chunks of his personal fortune in the club, building up a squad of international players and establishing a state-of-the-art training base. He even built the city’s first five-star hotel so that visiting European teams would have somewhere to stay. The Donbass Arena was a key part of this long-term plan for Shakhtar world domination and the stadium would likely have been completed with or with-out Euro 2012. Nevertheless, visiting fans will be impressed to find such an excellent facility tucked away in the far corner of the continent.
Donetsk at a glance
City population: 975,000
Euro 2012 stadium: Donbass Arena
Euro 2012 match schedule:
June 11: England vs France (19:00)
June 15: Ukraine vs France (19:00)
June 19: Ukraine vs England (21:45)
June 23: Quarter-final (21:45)
June 27: Semi-final (21:45)
City symbol: A hammer in a clenched fist How Donetsk sees itself: a proudly proletarian city which serves as the engine of the Ukrainian economy and where old-fashioned working class values and respect for the shared Soviet past are given pride of place.
What the detractors say: Ukraine’s heart of darkness – a city with strong authoritarian tendencies which remains best known for mass electoral fraud, anti-Ukrainian agitation and unreconstructed Soviet sentiment.
Local legend: Curiously for a city so steeped in Soviet lore, Donetsk was actually founded by a Welshman – nineteenth century industrialist John Hughes - who set up a state-of-the-art metallurgy plant on the site of today’s city in 1869 at the height of Pax Britannica. The city was originally named ‘Hughesovka’ in his honour before being renamed ‘Stalino’ in the 1920s. Donetsk acquired its present name in the 1960s.
Essential photo opportunity: with its melting pot population and worker cult today’s Donetsk
remains the most unambiguously Soviet city in the whole of the former USSR, so it is fitting that it plays host to Ukraine’s largest surviving Lenin statue. You will find the Bolshevik leader occupying pride of place on Donetsk’s central town square.
Donetsk’s Romanian icon: Shakhtar Donetsk trainer Mircea Lucescu is probably the most popular foreigner in the city’s history. As well as knocking Dynamo Kyiv off their domestic perch, he succeeded in securing the UEFA Cup in 2009 – an event met with unprecedented fanfare in the football crazy city. He is pictured here next to a monument unveiled in a Donetsk park to commemorate the historic victory.
Euro 2012 Host City Guide: Kharkiv
Kharkiv With around one and a half million inhabitants, Kharkiv is comfortably Ukraine’s second largest city but despite this prominent position it was not originally expected to be among Ukraine’s Euro 2012 host cities. It was only thanks to a last-ditch charm offensive and bagfuls of optimism that the city was able to dramatically oust Dnipropetrovsk from UEFA’s final four. Kharkiv has since led the country’s Euro preparations and was the first Ukrainian host city to unveil a modern airport terminal building, a feat which it achieved fully two years ahead of the big kick-off. There is now a sense of expectation descending on Kharkiv as it prepares for its international debut. Ukraine’s second-largest city may not have the ancient attractions of Kyiv or Lviv, but its wide open boulevards and Stalinist squares are in many ways ideally suited to large bodies of visiting Euro fans which will arrive in June. The city’s student-friendly atmosphere - Kharkiv is awash in institutions of higher education and plays host to an estimated 16% of all Ukrainian university professors – is also expected to help create the right ambiance for visiting supporters, while the famously vocal supporters of local club Metalist Kharkiv will make sure that matches takes place in a carnival atmosphere.
History: from Cossack settlement to Stalin’s future city Kharkiv was originally a Cossack capital – a fact which visitors will find reflected in the many themed Cossack monuments which dot the city centre. Once the Cossack lands of Ukraine had been swallowed up by the Russian Empire the city’s prime location - commanding the southern crossroads of the Tsarist domains - saw it expand as an industrial hub throughout the nineteenth century. This growth continued at such a phenomenal rate that prior to the outbreak of WWI Kharkiv had in many respects usurped Kyiv’s place as the third city of the empire. During the Russian Civil War which followed in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, the communists faced a major challenge from Ukrainian nationalist groups which sought to establish an independent state with its capital in Kyiv. This Ukrainian question represented a considerable strategic headache for the fledgling Bolshevik regime. In order to strip rebel Kyiv of its prestige, they decided to move the capital of Soviet Ukraine eastwards. It is no surprise that they should choose Kharkiv – a young and solidly proletarian city with a burgeoning reputation for academic excellence and technological achievement. As Kyiv could boast over a thousand years of history and enjoyed the kudos of ancient associations with the Orthodox Church, the Bolsheviks determined that their alternative capital should be a self-consciously modern city where rationalist architectural statements and Soviet science would triumph over the superstitious doctrines and dreamy spires of the old regime. Such was the desire to transform Kharkiv into a showpiece Bolshevik capital that the city was lavished with Kremlin funding and underwent a complete transformation. What emerged as result of this bombastic construction boom remains the basis of the city we see today, complete with some of the finest examples of 1920s constructivism anywhere in the world. Kharkiv’s role as a flagship for Stalin’s brave new world was to prove shortlived – in 1934 the capital was moved back to Kyiv and the Napoleonic plans to expand and improve Kharkiv further were shelved. However, this period of capital city prestige remains imprinted on the grand and lofty architecture of the downtown area. This era of communist optimism is perhaps best captured in Kharkiv’s iconic Palace of Industry – a colossal collection of interlinked bridges and tower blocks which remains the city’s most photographed landmark. At the time of its construction in the mid 1920s, it was the centerpiece of Stalin’s plans for the city. Upon completion, the new building was widely saluted both within the USSR and abroad as a classic of Soviet Futurist Constructivism. An atheistic cathedral in a godless empire, even today the Palace of Industry maintains an air of futuristic functionality, offering modern visitors a window into an alternative universe and reminding Kharkiv natives of their home city’s considerable pedigree.
Student city: Kharkiv undergraduates from across the globe Kharkiv is known for its industry but the first thing that most Euro 2012 visitors will notice is the large number of young people in and around the city centre. This youthful feel is the product of the city’s buzzing higher education scene, which is among the most competitive in the former USSR. Today’s Kharkiv is home to 14 national universities, literally hundreds of institutions of higher education and an estimated quarter of a million undergraduate students. As well as being a popular university destination for Ukrainian students, it is also the most fashionable choice among international students looking to study in Ukraine. This popularity dates back to Soviet times when Kharkiv served as one of the USSR’s centres for international students, but the city’s appeal as an undergraduate destination has not waned since the Soviet collapse. These international students lend a sense of cosmopolitan diversity to everyday Kharkiv life which is absent in many other Ukrainian cities - it should also help prepare the former capital for this summer’s influx of young foreign guests.
Kharkiv metro: underground science fiction
Modern Kharkiv is not without its tourist attractions – there are plenty of parks and cathedrals to enjoy if your tastes are Orthodox enough, while there are certainly more than enough futuristic echoes of the Stalinist 1920s on display in the city centre to keep fans of Soviet chic entertained. However, the most intriguing attraction for this summer’s Euro 2012 visitors may well prove to be the city’s cultish metro system. First opened to the public in 1975, this rail network remains something of a 1970s time warp, complete with funky interiors and period décor. In keeping with the student motif, a number of stations are named after local academics and decorated with funky splitting atoms and other space age imagery. The result is a kitsch-fest of almost Eurovision proportions. Kharkiv’s three-line underground system was originally earmarked for construction in the late 1930s and may well have ended up looking like a smaller version of the ostentatious Moscow metro if building work had been allowed to continue at the time. However, the decision to move the Ukrainian capital back to Kyiv meant that the dream of a Kharkiv metro system would have to wait until the 1970s before realization. Any fans of psychedelic disco who happen to encounter the city’s metro system this summer during Euro 2012 will be eternally grateful for the delay.
Kharkiv at a glance
Euro 2012 stadium: Metalist Stadium
Euro 2012 match schedule:
June 9: Netherlands vs Denmark (19:00)
June 13: Netherlands vs Germany (21:45)
June 17: Portugal vs Netherlands (21:45)
How Kharkiv sees itself: Ukraine’s scientific and literary capital - a cosmopolitan city at ease with itself where Ukrainian and Soviet historical narratives can sit side by side in an atmosphere of intellectual enquiry and balanced debate.
What the detractors say: an underachieving city which is today living largely on its past academic reputation and Soviet industrial inheritance, having failed to step convincingly into its natural 21st century role as Ukraine’s Eurasian gateway.
Stalin’s future city: Kharkiv was named as the new capital of Soviet Ukraine in the early Bolshevik years and throughout the 1920s it was lavished with Kremlin funding for outlandish futuristic building projects designed to serve as the public face of Stalin’s brave new world. Today these self-consciously futuristic facades and secular temples appear somewhat cultish but they still carry the echo of early Soviet utopianism and exude the authority of a bygone national capital.
It’s a Metalist world: these days local heroes Metalist Kharkiv are ranked as Ukraine’s third best club side and the team benefits from arguably the country’s most vociferous fan base. It wasn’t always this way – as recently as eight years ago Metalist languished in the second tier of Ukrainian football, only to be rescued by billionaire local business leader Oleksandr Yaroslavskiy.
Euro 2012 Host City Guide: Kyiv
The Ukrainian capital is set to play host to the final of Euro 2012, giving it top billing among the tournament’s eight host cities. This is a fitting accolade for what is one of Eastern Europe’s most ancient (and historically important) capitals, with many now predicting that the city will prove the biggest hit of the championships. Kyiv certainly looks poised to excel during Euro 2012, with the city’s infrastructure and accommodation shortcomings expected to be overshadowed by the positive impression made on visiting fans by the city’s abundant greenery, wedding cake architecture, downtown beaches and nubile nightlife.
History: Eastern Europe’s most sought after asset
For the past thousand years Kyiv has been a barometer of East European political power and
the key to unlocking the entire region. Whichever power has held sway in the Ukrainian capital at any given time has also dominated the eastern approaches of continental Europe. This was the case when the Kyiv Rus kingdom emerged as Eastern Europe’s most powerful state at the turn of the past millennium. It also rang true when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth wrestled the city from Mongol domination in the fourteenth century, marking their rise as the predominant force east of the Alps. Conveniently, the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire can also be charted from its loss of Kyiv, which was finally handed over to the emergent Russians in 1667.
The Tsars exalted Kyiv as the birthplace of all Russian civilization and sure enough the city served as their springboard to European Great Power status in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Unsurprisingly, during the chaos of the Bolshevik revolution which brought the Tsarist regime crashing down, Kyiv was the most sought-after prize. The city is said to have changed hands eighteen times in the aftermath of Lenin’s revolution as Reds, Whites, Greens and anarchist forces all fought against Ukrainian nationalists, Western armies of intervention and the Poles for control of the Ukrainian capital. Naturally, Soviet success in capturing Kyiv naturally translated into a dominant regional role for Stalin’s Kremlin.
Foreign policy flirtations: Kyiv as ‘Mistress of the East’
Russia’s loss of Kyiv in 1991 also signaled Moscow’s geopolitical retreat and ushered in the current modern era of East European geopolitical ambiguity. With Kyiv as the capital of an independent state for the first time in over eight hundred years, the Eastern European region’s careful constructed balance of power has been radically altered and remains subject to considerable fluctuations. Indeed, it is perhaps no mere coincidence that when a Russian-friendly government was installed in Kyiv in 2010, this coincided with much trumpeting of the Kremlin’s return to its position as the decisive power in Eastern Europe as a whole. This role as the key to Eastern Europe has seen Kyiv cast as the great geopolitical mistress of the region, flirting with all-comers but proving faithful to none. It is a role which Ukraine’s capital has grown into over the centuries and one which successive generations of the city’s political leaders have learned to perform with considerable skill – as demonstrated by modern Kyiv’s ability to play diplomatic footsie with both the EU and the Kremlin without making any definitive commitments one way or the other.
A strolling city: park life and beach beauty
Kyiv is a vast city – some estimates put the floating population at upwards of double the official
figure of 3.2 million residents – but for all its size it remains a distinctly civilized and intimate destination which often feels more like a particularly largely village. Some believe that the city has a unique spirituality - a claim bolstered by Kyiv’s status as the original home of the East Slavic Orthodox Church. The mystically minded sometimes argue that Kyiv is touched by other intangible forces and point to its place on the fabled list of global cities built on seven hills – a list which also includes Jerusalem, Istanbul, Rome and Mecca. Whatever the truth may be about the otherworldly influences behind Kyiv’s amiable ambience, there is no escaping the pleasant atmosphere which permeates the city in the summer months. Kyiv is remarkably green and is dotted with splendid parks and tree-lined boulevards, which certainly helps. It also boasts the splendor of the Dnipro River, which cuts a swathe through the heart of the city and provides welcome summertime ventilation as well as sensational scenery.
The beaches of downtown Kyiv are likely to prove one of the biggest hits of Euro 2012 – especially among the arriving armies of sun-worshipping Swedes. With Chernobyl less than one hundred kilometers upstream not everyone will fancy a dip in the Dnipro River itself, but nevertheless the heady combination of sandy beaches and big game excitement is expected to be highly intoxicating.
Kyiv’s beaches are expected to serve as one of the most social spots in the country during Euro 2012, allowing visiting fans to make local friends against a beautiful bikini backdrop. With no cover charges in place to deter cash-strapped day-trippers from Ukraine’s impoverished countryside and ample room for thousands of visiting Euro revelers, we can expect 2012 to be a bumper summer season on the Kyiv sands.
Getting around: taxi democracy and metro kitsch
Kyiv is the only Ukrainian city where the early post-Soviet practice of flagging down passing cars as makeshift taxis remains in fashion. Guests to the city will soon cotton onto the fact that merely by raising their arm at the roadside they will be guaranteed their choice of transport. However, for groups of fans the only mode of public transport that will be encountered in the Ukrainian capital will be the Kyiv metro system. Kyiv’s metro is the poor relationship to Moscow’s grandiose 1930s masterpiece, which has often been compared to a series of underground palaces. The Kyiv version is somewhat more modest but retains a certain Soviet chic which will no doubt delight visiting Euro 2012 fans. Locals like to suggest that it was built by German prisoners of war in the late 1940s, but this is actually a well-worn urban myth, borne in part out of disbelief at the functionality, efficiency and punctuality of the city’s metro system. Highlights of the Kyiv metro system include Arsenalna Metro Station, which is reputedly the deepest underground railway station in the world. If you are particularly lucky you may even get to ride on what are the world’s longest (and steepest) metro escalators to the accompaniment of piped Soviet muzak.
Kyiv at a glance
Founded: approx. 5th century AD
Euro 2012 stadium: Olympic Stadium
Euro 2012 match schedule:
June 11: Ukraine vs Sweden (21:45)
June 15: England vs Sweden (21:45)
June 19: France vs Sweden (21:45)
June 24: Euro 2012 Quarter-Final (21:45)
July 1: Euro 2012 Final (21:45)
City symbol: The chestnut leaf
How Kyiv sees itself: an elegant and expanding city with an ancient legacy as the spiritual capital of all East Slavic civilisations and the mother city of not only modern Ukraine but also today’s Russia and Belarus.
What the detractors say: an over-fed glutton of a city creaming off the profits of Ukraine’s more productive regions while engaging in never-ending political grandstanding and historical pontification which never actually seems to go anywhere.
Prone to political pantomime: When the Kyivan people were converted to Christianity in the tenth century – paving the way for the Russian Orthodox Church - they did not simply change their allegiance. Instead, they are said to have whipped and beaten their old pagan idols in grand procession through the streets of the city before casting them symbolically into the Dnipro River. Some regard this as an early example of the kind of zero-sum populist politicking which remains commonplace in today’s Ukraine.
Fairytale photo opportunity: Kyiv’s quaintest street is undoubtedly Andriyivskiy Uzviz (St. Andrew’s Descent), which winds down from the site of the old city to the lazy sprawl of riverside region Podil. This cobbled road is something of a tourist trap but it is also an architectural goldmine. Halfway down the hill you will find Mikhail Bulgakov’s old house – which served as one of the main locations for his classic Russian Civil War novel ‘The White Guard’.
Second Swedish invasion: fans of Sweden’s national team look set to take over the Ukrainian capital this June as their side plays all three group stage ties in Kyiv, with plans including a temporary Scandinavian tent city close to the city centre. This will not be the first time that thousands of Swedes have made their mark on the Ukrainian capital – according to local lore the early medieval Kyivan Rus state (which gave rise to modern Ukraine, Russia and Belarus) was founded by a Swedish Vik