x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Euro 2012: A melting pot called Donetsk

Russian may be the more widely-spoken language in this picturesque city, but it is also steeped in British and Ukrainian cultures. Paul Radley reports from Ukraine.

The Liverpool Art Hotel, with a kitsch statue of The Beatles, is a landmark in Donetsk, Ukraine. Paul Radley / The National
The Liverpool Art Hotel, with a kitsch statue of The Beatles, is a landmark in Donetsk, Ukraine. Paul Radley / The National

Day 14 – Donetsk

Roy Hodgson, the England manager, said after this game he would not have changed any of the logistics of their Euro 2012 campaign if he were given the chance again.

He is happy his team have been able to mill around in Krakow, their base in Poland which is not a host city, even though it meant having to fly about 1,600 kilometres to get to their two pool matches in Donetsk.

Their hotel here, The Victoria Centre, is a short skip across a well-tended park from the spectacular Donbass Arena.

On match day, it is more effort to get in the bus, have the motorcycle outriders and drive around the block to get to the front entrance than it would be to walk the two minutes across the park.

It is a reminder of just how cosseted footballers are at major tournaments. No wonder players often complain about cabin fever. They have a point.

Day 15 – Donetsk

Today is the first day without a live game since the tournament started.

It is also the day when the realisation has dawned on most home supporters that, after all that waiting and anticipation, their national team are already out.

Ukraine's participation in their home tournament lasted a mere nine days. All that preparation for just nine days. What an anticlimax.

However, there was next to no anger at the fact Ukraine flounced out after failing to navigate the first hurdle.

They realised the limitations of their side and were just grateful for the chance to be there to show their appreciation for the career of Andriy Shevchenko.

A lot of people in this part of the country are more bothered by the failure of Russia and have an axe to grind with Andrey Arshavin and company rather than Oleg Blokhin, Ukraine's manager.

Day 16 – Donetsk

England will not be returning to this city again during this tournament, no matter how they fare in their quarter-final against Italy. Which is a bit of a pity, seeing as how much of Donetsk, where Hodgson's team played two pool matches, is a homage to all things British.

The centre of the city – which is twinned with Sheffield and was founded by a Welshman – is peculiarly Anglicised.

One of its main landmarks is the Liverpool Art Hotel, restaurant and food court, at the front of which is a kitsch statue celebrating The Beatles from which Fab Four songs are piped.

It is just across the block from a statue to another great hero of culture, Taras Shevchenko, the 19th century poet regarded as the father of the Ukrainian language.

Apparently, they like their cultural landmarks varied in these parts, but they do seem like a couple of paradoxes.

English is not widely spoken here and neither is Ukrainian. Russian is the first language.

Day 17 – Donetsk

The Sergios, Ramos and Busquets, are in chipper mood as they are presented to the press ahead of their quarter-final against France.

And why would they not be? They are European champions and World Cup holders, they are brilliant, and they are about to play a quarter-final against a France team who are mid-meltdown.

The French, it seems, are going stir crazy.

A month in Donetsk, with the spotlight sharpened by it being major championships time, is likely to do that to a side as temperamental as they are.

Laurent Blanc's attempts at firefighting are in stark contrast to the general air of serenity surrounding his opposite number.

When asked why he has such an affable bunch with him, the Spain coach Vicente del Bosque says: "We are sportsmen, what do we have to worry about?"

Day 18 – Donetsk

Saturdays are wedding days in Ukraine. Or, more noticeably, the day when happy couples go out to have their photographs taken in all their Special Day finery.

In Lviv, the host city in Ukraine's west which abounds with Armenian cathedrals, Latin churches, an opera house and a dapper town hall, options for a natty backdrop are legion.

Couples in Donetsk have leaner pickings. They can pose in front of a posh, glassy football stadium - the preferred choice of most grooms, probably - or a lake with some slag heaps behind. And there ends the choices.

At least they do not have masses of football fans in their way today. Relatively few Spanish or French supporters have been able to make the trip for what should be the plum quarter-final. There are plenty of empty seats and the loudest chants are for "Ukraine" and "Roos-i-ya".

Day 19 – Donetsk

This work-a-day city near the Russian border undergoes a total transformation on Sundays. The head-down, let's-get-on-with-it stoicism of the week entirely dissipates, as these Ukrainians show that they can loaf with the best of them.

On a corner of Pushkin Boulevard, a leafy walkway in the middle of town where the well-heeled park their Mercedes and BMW 4x4s and loll about in alfresco cafes, a five-piece jazz band plays. They even do a classy take on Katy Perry.

This is more like 19th century Parisian dandyism than an evolving former Soviet Republic. Where did it all go wrong?

A couple of blocks further down Universitat Street, out of the centre, scores of people jump off a bridge and swim in the lake next to Park Shcherbakova, a small fun fair next to the old Shakhtar Donetsk football stadium. It is not Jumeirah beach, but on a glorious day like this, it is certainly passable.

Day 20 – Donetsk

There are still a few England fans wandering around Donetsk. Unsurprisingly, they do not appear to be in the finest fettle.

Planning travel to a tournament like this is not easy unless you are made of money. Some supporters have been flying in directly from the UK on specially chartered flights on the day of the game, then leaving straight after.

The remnants of the budget tour party here obviously took a gamble on England finishing second in their group, not unwisely, given the form France showed coming in to the tournament.

That would have meant a quarter-final against Spain at the Donbass Arena. Instead, they overshot last night's Italy match by around 730km, and had to watch on the TV instead.

As they ready themselves for the journey home, they are stocking up on souvenirs. The best-selling item? A plain black T-shirt carrying the slogan: "Now I fear nothing: I've been to Donetsk." Quite.

pradley@thenational.ae

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