UPDATED: 10 days in Ukraine (Euro 2012)

June 30th, 2012 by davesterli in News

And now for something completely different…

On a June 6th update I mentioned an out-of-country excursion that I was about to take.  Having returned and recovered, I thought  I’d share a few thoughts on the experience.  My good friend Clif and I spent 10 days in Ukraine, attending soccer matches for the Euro 2012 tournament.  We spent 6 days in Lviv, and 3 in Kiev.  We attended 3 Euro 2012 games, but mostly just explored the cities, wandered the streets, and enjoyed the experience.  For those that are wondering why anyone would vacation in Ukraine, I would suggest that you to shed any historical perception you have about an old Communist country still climbing out of the dark ages.  This was not western Europe…it was even better.  Western Europe can (in my humble opinion), at times, feel like a variation on Epcot – tons of tourists lined up for the next canned experience.  Ukraine has not yet been overrun by the western mobs, and even with the hordes of western Europeans in town for Euro 2012, we were still able to have authentic Ukrainian experiences.

Anyhow, this isn’t a recap of the trip, but more just general impressions from our time there.  I wrote this initially to make sense of my own thoughts, but I thought I’d share in case anyone might be interested…

1. The people – The people were fantastic!

First, a general impression.  They seemed to really want to help and make sure the visitors had a great experience in Ukraine.  But, they also seemed to carry a bit of an inferiority complex.  As citizens of a “lesser” country in Europe, with a lower standard of living and political struggles as they work to establish a stable democracy, they seemed to be seeking our approval.  We had several people ask us about Ukraine – did we like it?  Is everything OK?  What could they do better?  These aren’t the kinds of questions you would get in western Europe obviously.  This humbleness and desire to be accepted was charming. (I say that without intending to be derisive.)  I felt like a special guest throughout my stay.  They recognized that Ukraine was a different experience for most of us, and they wanted to make sure we were treated well and able to experience their country to the fullest extent possible.

On trams, buses, and just in the street, we had numerous locals, including older people who likely knew little or no English, offer to help or guide us.  One older couple walked several blocks with us to make sure we found the right bus for our trip to the Lviv stadium.  Another older lady got off the bus early to track us down – several blocks later -  and hand us a compact (cheap) umbrella we left behind.

And, they clearly worked hard to make this event a success.  In Lviv, hundreds of volunteers  – all of whom spoke at least a little English – were posted throughout the city in bright yellow t-shirts, under bright Yellow tents.  They were teenagers and 20-somethings…very friendly, and wanting to help in whatever way they could.  We had volunteers walk us to sites that we had trouble locating, translate with ticket agents, and guide us in the train station.  We met our favorite volunteer, Elena, on the afternoon of our arrival.  She was in the “fan zone” and helped orient us to Lviv.  That evening, she guided us to an outstanding restaurant, where she was kind enough to join us and share more about her city and country.  In a chance to give back, we were able to show our appreciation by giving her tickets to the final match in Lviv (tickets that the process required us to buy, even though we would be gone by then)…hopefully she used and enjoyed them!

2. Logistics – There was great concern by other Europeans, as well as by the Ukrainians themselves, as to whether Ukraine was ready to host such a big event.  With the eyes of Europe (and beyond) on Ukraine and Poland, many in Europe felt that Ukraine simply didn’t have the infrastructure and the experience to pull it off.  Leading up to, and early in our excursion, events seemed to confirm those concerns.  We were unable to book Express train travel until two weeks prior to the tournament, as the new Express trains had just arrived from Korea.  At the first match in Lviv, the stadium ran out of sandwiches (the only “real” food at the stadium) two hours before kickoff.  One of the two bus drop-off/pick-up points at the Lviv stadium (with buses being pretty much the only way to get to/from the stadium) was close to a 30 minute walk from the venue.  (Quite a hike at midnight.)

Having experienced those relatively minor hiccups, though, the rest of the trip, logistically, was great.  The train, once booked, was spectacular.  Sandwiches were abundant (if relatively pedestrian) at the next match.  And the buses, once you got to them (were quickly figured out to stick with the shorter option…15 minutes), were lined up and ready to move fans with very limited waits.  Public transportation was reliable and signage put up just for the tournament was very helpful.  Overall, during our time in both Lviv and Kiev, it was clear that the country had put a lot of thought and effort into the event.  Any event of this size is going to have glitches, but apart from those few things mentioned above, they seemed to do a fantastic job of pulling it off.

3. Security – some of the pre-tournament concerns were around safety and security for visitors in Ukraine.  As two extremely-caucasion men, Clif and I weren’t in a demographic group for which there was great concern.  But having said that, we felt very safe.  The police and security presence was significant.  In the Fan-Zone, at the Stadiums, on the street, near subway entrances, and anywhere people were congregating, there were often groups of 10-20 police standing by to make sure no one even considered causing problems.  Likewise, as we walked through the cities, police were highly visible, and often in small groups, not just individual officers.

4. Fans – Throughout our stay, we met fans from many countries.  Beer and vodka was shared with Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, and Swedes.  (And probably more that I’m not recalling.)  The pride and joy that the fans demonstrated in support of their teams and countries was wonderful.  I’ve been to quite a few major college and pro sporting events, including Longhorn-Aggie Thanksgiving football games.  There is a lot of energy and excitement at those events, but this was something totally different.  If you’ve seen European soccer games on TV, you have seen them live and die on every play.  When it is their national team playing, that intensity gets ratcheted up even higher.  Overall these were some of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever attended.  (Some Americans find it hard to believe that a 1-0 soccer game can be so exciting, but it was!)

We saw 5 teams play, so including the Ukrainians, we experienced large hordes of 6 fan groups.  Not much was expected of the Ukrainian team, but that did not diminish the enthusiasm of the citizens.  Ukrainian jerseys were everywhere, and their enthusiasm never waned.  (Even as they were eliminated in group play.)  We experienced Ukraine’s first game in the Lviv “Fan Zone”, a huge area in the center of town where fans could watch all of the matches on large screens.  Ukraine won the game (their only win, unfortunately), and the town was  simply electric.  As a big underdog, and the host of the tournament, this was a great moment of pride for the country, and Lviv celebrated  accordingly.  It was a great  night…we were fortunate to be part of that experience.

Of those six, the craziest by far were the Swedes.  Boisterous, aggressive (but not in a violent or threatening way), and non-stop.  The morning after their loss to England, we were heading out around 8:00, and Swedish fans, still in their jerseys from the night before, were on the streets trying to stumble their way back home.  Too bad their team didn’t play with the same level of intensity as their fans.


Ukraine has a fascinating, complex, and tormented history.  Over the last 100 years, they have been batted around by numerous rulers (Austria-Hungary, Poland, Germany, Russia, USSR), most of which have tried to suppress the Ukrainian language and culture.  They have managed to hang on to it to varying degrees, and many of the citizens appear to be working hard to continue integrating their heritage into modern Ukraine.  The cities we visited were beautiful and interesting in their own right, but when combined with the struggles of the last century, it makes for a very compelling place to visit.  I would love to returning someday – but not during a big event – to experience and explore further.

Slava Ukraini!


A final note – According to a new friend that we made during our time in Ukraine, the Ukrainian language has been judged to be the most beautiful in the world.  A similar appraisal of beauty has also been made as it relates to the Ukrainian women.  In neither case could we find cause to disagree with those assessments.


UPDATEBeer…An embarrassing oversight…I forgot to share my thoughts on the Beer that we had.  Overall impression…pretty good!  The most common option was Lvivske (select “TAK”, or Yes, to indicate that you are 18), a brewery in Lviv that traces its roots back to 1715.  It is a respectable session beer – not to heavy or alcoholic, with a clean taste and finish…a perfect choice for a liter or two at an outdoor café on the town square.  We went to the brewery, where they have a diminutive museum explaining the history of the brewery.  While the museum was not especially impressive, the tasting that was included with admission (a mere $2.50) was.  They offered three beers, but not in the usual 2-4 ounce pours.  These were full (roughly) 12 ounce offerings!  So if you end up in Lviv, take in the beer museum, if for no other reason than the after-museum refreshment!

We tried several other Ukrainian beers…unfortunately I did not record their names, and now I can’t recall them.  From Ukraine, we didn’t have any that were horrible, and their were a couple of pilsners that were very good – comparable in body and flavor with some America micro-brews.  The only really bad beer we had was a Belarus offering called Krinitsa Klasichnae.  These reviews pretty much tell the story.

So, thumbs up to Ukrainian beer!

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4 Responses to “UPDATED: 10 days in Ukraine (Euro 2012)”

  1. Lori Royer says:

    I enjoyed reading about your trip! We watched a lot of those games in our living room, it would have been exciting to experience it in person!:)

  2. Pam says:

    Thanks for the diary on your trip. I love the observations, the feel of emotion you had for the place and the people.

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