x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Euro 2012: Distance no hindrance to Ukraine's national pride

As the hosts played in Kiev last night, Paul Radley watched the action 550km away with fans in Lviv, the country's 'most patriotic city'.

An Ukrainian fan gets his face painted in his country's colour by volunteers in downtown Lviv
An Ukrainian fan gets his face painted in his country's colour by volunteers in downtown Lviv

Click here to read Paul Radley's Euro 2012 blog

It was supposed to be all yellow, not all grey. Not that the unseasonably bleak weather really mattered. Perhaps it even added to the overall effect, like a muddy Glastonbury transposed to a central square in Ukraine.

Depending on which guidebook you read, Lviv is either the Paris of Ukraine or the Vienna of East. Either way, they feel they have a city to be proud of in these parts.

Or a country to be proud of, to be more specific.

This city, which is just 62kms from the border with co-hosts Poland, is known as being the most patriotic in the country.

Unlike the other three Euro 2012 host cities here - namely Kiev, Kharkiv and Donetsk - Ukrainian is the primary language here. The other three are Russian leaning.

So, while their national team were playing against Sweden around 550kms away in the capital last night, the people of this city were just as highly invested in the action as anyone who was there in person.

Just three pool matches are coming to Lviv, one of which has already been and gone. It will all be over here in less than a week.

While the carnival lasts, no one wants to miss out. Even the severest looking types had miniature yellow and blue flags drawn on their cheeks last night. Workers opted for flags rather than coats as they raced from the office to the TV screen.

On Freedom Avenue, everything got an ovation. When Lviv's landmarks were highlighted on the TV preamble on the bigscreen: proud cheering. When the cameras panned in on the faces in the crowd of the city's fan park: look, isn't that me cheering.

When they cut to Andriy Shevchenko and company lining up pre kick off: here-we-go cheering. When Kim Kallstrom was booked early in the piece for Sweden: rabid, serves-you-right cheering.

Almost everything, at least. The image of president Viktor Yanukovych sitting in the posh seats looking statesmanlike was met with the sort of resounding boo that said unequivocally he is not liked or wanted here.

And, midway through the first half, when a Swedish defender got a boot in the face - in super slow-mo, so you could see his nose momentarily displace - it was greeted less with cheers. More the sort of noise that says: "What's he fussing for? That couldn't have hurt, is was just a kick in the face." They breed them tough around here.

"I don't know if we are any more pro-Ukraine or more patriotic than the other cities," said Oksana, a female supporter who has lived in Lviv all her life.

"But they should definitely have played a match here because they never lose when they play matches in Lviv. The statistics show it: when they play in Lviv, the national team do not always win, but the worst that happens is the scores are level. They never lose."

The main square, where the majority have congregated for these games, is overlooked by the Shevchenko monument.

It is nominally to celebrate the life of Taras Shevchenko, who is regarded as the father of the Ukrainian language.

They may have to park a new one next to him by the same name this morning, commemorating the Daddy of Ukrainian football.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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