Euro 2012: a chance for Ukraine to leave the Iron Curtain behind

Country’s ambassador reports a country buzzing with anticipation ahead of its co-hosting of the European Championship in June

Mykhailo Skuratovskyi, the Ukrainian ambassador to Denmark, realises that although he feels his country has made great strides politically, socially and economically in the 21 years since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, many people around the world still view Ukraine through prisms developed when the nation was part of the old empire. Skuratovskyi hopes that Ukraine’s joint hosting with Poland of the Euro 2012 football championship will begin to change misconceptions about his homeland.

“Events on the scale of Euro 2012 are important, not only from a sporting point of view, but for the country as a whole,” said Skuratovskyi.

A meticulously dressed man with a comfortable manner and quick smile, Skuratovskyi takes his time when measuring his responses to questions about Ukraine. Those answers usually contain a mixture of obvious pride in his country and realism about the challenges presented by staging an event like Euro 2012.

“We are pretty much building a whole new infrastructure: new airports, new hotels, new roads, and greater transportation possibilities. Everyone has heard the stories about the horrible roads that existed during the Soviet period. We are working to fix all of that.”

Ukraine has had diplomatic ties with Denmark for 20 years, and Denmark is in Group B of the upcoming championship. All of Group B’s and Group A’s games will be played in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Lviv, Donetsk and Kiev (Kyiv). Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city, will also host the final.

Although Danes are usually well-represented when the national team plays around the world, ticket sales for the Ukrainian matches are
reportedly slow.

Skuratovskyi is frustrated at recent stories in the Danish media about price-gouging and the potential for both police and hooligan violence during the championship. The ambassador said he wasn’t sure why some television stations in Denmark are engaging in what he called “sensationalism”.

“Some Danish television stations showed Ukrainian police beating up football fans. The footage was from 2007, and we have done much since then to educate our police force. There will be no police officers in the stadia. Just like everywhere else in the world, we will have stewards in the arenas with police close by if needed.”

He went on to say that the officers shown in the videos were not assaulting average football fans, but attempting to control hooligans. The ambassador said that Ukraine is working with Interpol to prevent known hooligans from disrupting Euro 2012.

He also said that the plan is that every police patrol will contain at least one English-speaking officer.

“One of the hangovers from the Soviet days is that Ukraine is behind when it comes to speaking English, but there will be signs and information in English in every host city.”

Skuratovskyi said he hopes that some of the reported attempts at price-gouging during the run-up to the championship will abate as the tournament draws closer.
“It happens everywhere. It was the same in South Africa during the last World Cup. Everyone was trying to get rich overnight, and then, about a month before the start, prices settled down. They were still higher than normal, but more realistic.”

Skuratovskyi’s office, the Danish Football Association, and the Danish embassy in Ukraine are developing a brochure to educate potential travellers about Ukraine and what they should expect to pay for various services. Fans interested in attending the competition are urged to book their accommodation through the website

Skuratovskyi hopes Euro 2012 will throw back the old iron curtain once and for all and reveal Ukraine’s beautiful scenery, rich cultural heritage and many historic cities. He also hopes the championship will be a stepping stone towards Ukraine’s future as a modern European country.

“Portugal became a completely different country after it hosted the tournament. I can already feel and see the difference in Ukraine whenever I fly home. As soon as I step off of the plane, there is a new feeling in the air. There are new cafes and restaurants everywhere. People are excited. It is a new era for us.”

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