The Pain of Ukraine (Published January 2012)


My first ever article about Uraine – Graham

The press, both foreign and local, love to rag on Ukraine, it’s true; especially with EURO 2012 fast approaching. Does it affect the way people really view the country? Or is it just half-hearted scaremongering-for-the-sake-of-headlines?

I’d been going to England home games for a good while and in the run-up to the last World Cup decided to step things up and follow the team to South Africa.

It was around this time two years ago an article appeared in The Sun carrying dire warnings of perils and menaces lying in store in the host African nation. Of particular note, was a charming denizen going by the name of The Captain who declared, while taking hits of crystal meth, “I’ve been shot four times…been in prison for attempted murder and armed robbery. The only thing that means anything to me is meth.” Lovely chap and not alone either in his country with a record of 50 murders, with 50 more attempted, every day; even months before The Daily Telegraph had warned that England fans were “certain to be killed” in South Africa. Notwithstanding this, I along with around 20,000 other England fans headed over to find that the greatest dangers awaiting us were dodgy goalkeeping and a blind Uruguayan referee.

As Euro 2012 approaches, I’ve now been living in Ukraine for over a year and feel I know the country at least to some degree, so was very interested as to what line the British media would take with my new(ish) homeland. And I must say that as coverage has got underway, I’ve been a bit surprised at the stick Ukraine has been getting! A recent article in the Daily Mirror was entitled EURO 2012 Hooligan Warning for England Fans and began with: “England fans travelling to Ukraine for EURO 2012 have been warned they will be heading into a cauldron of neo-Nazi violence.” It told of a Kyiv where football fans get stamped to death to the tune of Nazi refrains from perpetrators. Not very nice at all. An article in the Daily Mail took up the theme with its headline of No England Euros Invasion as Ukraine Base Drives Fans Away.

Granted both articles cite price and lack of accommodation plus ticket prices and transport as being contributing factors to the supposed stay-away of England fans, but I hardly recall South Africa offering wallet-friendly digs. In fact, I put through an order for a complete set of England tickets the other day, which came out at less than 300 Euros (cheap seats but still not bad). Meanwhile The Sun has joined in with Race Hate Threat to England Fans, and while the BBC has taken a more modulated line, their journalists have still warned of bigotry and hooliganism facing fans who make the journey.

1ukrWhat’s more surprising than anything, however, is to think of those hardened England fans who converged en masse in Cape Town supposedly now sitting somewhere back in Blighty knees knocking at the prospect of a trip to Ukraine! Prior to coming here, I remember imagining Ukraine as a country of beautiful women (see our own Face of Kyiv competition for further proof and yes, check) and a country as depicted in the film Everything Is Illuminated where people have a comical way with English and a lack of vegetarian dining options (actually, the level of English here is pretty good and vegetarians well catered for). I never really imagined Ukraine as dangerous in a violent kind of way and unless you really do go looking for it, would stick to this. Actually when I said this to someone once they said, “Try Hydropark at night.” Am happy to say I have and the worst that happened is that nothing interesting happened.

So, the coverage in the British press is a shame if it were really to keep the English fans from coming. However, I don’t see this happening. If a scarily-tattooed, machete-wielding maniac threatening to knife fans up can’t put them off then this kind of half-hearted scaremongering-for-the-sake-of-headlines won’t either. As for racism, well, it’s true, at least from my experience of Dynamo, that the fans can be racist, which is unedifying in the extreme, but sadly true of football fans in many countries. And neo-Nazism? I’m sure it’s there if you go looking for it but ditto for many countries as well. Ok, Ukraine’s boys in blue and yellow are pitted against the Three Lions, but walk up and down Khreshchatyk on an average summer’s afternoon and you’ll likely see more English tops being sported than Ukrainian. Actually the idea of even talking to an English person, or ‘native speaker’, is one many Ukrainians find highly appealing for the prospect of practicing their English. I’ve known many such ‘native speakers’ who have been bought more than one beer Published January 2012, What’s On Magazine on this basis. As for the ‘t’ word, transport, around Ukraine, well it may not be most premium (to quote Everything Is Illuminated) but by gosh is it cheap.

So, to paraphrase the words of the great Alan Partridge in welcoming potential England fans to Ukraine (or anyone else for that matter), “Come to Ukraine – you’ll either be charged a very reasonable rate for public transport, meet some Ukrainians who may well want to have their picture taken with you or over-appreciated simply because you have English as a first language.”

Graham Phillips

Originally published January 2012, What’s On Magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.