Kharkiv: Germany vs Holland
After an attempt to head out of Donetsck to an underground Salt mine in Soledar failed we decided to head straight up to Kharkiv for the Holland vs Germany game. We jumped on the new Electroskycho (fast train) to arrive around midnight. The fast trains were part of the upgrade of infrastructure for the tournament but were only ready 15 days prior to KO so it hasn’t been easy to pre-book. On the train we met Eric Herrmann the German. With typical efficiency, after some shared beers, he had called a contact in Kharkiv and organised accomodation and a taxi to pick us up from the station. The train station in Kharkiv is again something special, looking more like a museum with its oil-painted ceilings than a station. The square passengers spill out onto is equally impressive, pictures to follow. As the apartment we had only slept 3, I accompanied Eric out of town to stay in the apartment he had booked via a couch-surfing website. We got a 15 minute ride in a 30 year old Volga (old Russian car) taxi – how it has survived so long with the amount of potholes is beyond me. Outside the main town Kharkiv is hot, dusty place, a bit wild West, or at wild East should I say, being very close to the Russian boarder. It was interesting to stay in someone’s home, a very basic flat high up on the 15th floor of a Soviet housing block. Apart from a 6 hour lack of electricity, the flat was humble but livable. The communal areas of the block were less so, stinking of cat $h1t with wires pouring out of the concrete staircases in haphazard fashion! Apparently 35% of Ukrainians live below the poverty line and I couldn’t help wondering which side of the line residents of this block belonged to. Having said that, the owners of this apartment, Eric’s friend Tarim & his girlfriend drove a near new Toyota Camry and the flat did have an impressive widescreen tv.
As we walked to the Metro I learned that Eric grew up in East Germany (near Leipzig) where learning Russian was compulsory at school. Hearing about his experiences growing up with similar cars, transport systems and holidays to Ukrainian & Polish people it was a reminder of how East Germany was very much under the influence of Russia until the Berlin wall came down.
Russian is widely spoken in Ukraine and it was useful to have someone who could communicate with the locals. I asked Tarim what Ukrainians of Russia & his reply was that it was good to have two teams to support (Russia & Ukraine). This was a very different response to the answer I got when speaking to Tatiana, a hostel owner from Kiev. She believed Russian government behaves like it owns Ukraine, and as a result, visiting Russians speak down and are at times rude to Ukrainians. I believe this is a typical trend for those in the East to be more pro-Russian, the current government being formed by politicians mostly from Donetsck.
And so to the game…. A visit to the fanzone, located in what is the biggest city square in Europe, revealed the mass of Dutch supporters. Organised & as Orange as ever, they had completely taken over the square and were treated to a set from superstar DJ Armand Van Buren to get them fired up before kick off. Getting tickets for what is probably the biggest group game in the smallest stadium wasn’t too much of a problem. DBR & I got tickets for face value at 30 Euros. Whilst this is pretty cheap for a Euro / World Cup game we were told tickets to watch Shaktar play in the champions league were 50 Hynervias (about 5 Euros) making them overpriced for many of the locals.
The game itself was all about the Germans. They steamrolled the Dutch, looking powerful, quick on the counter and very rarely loosing the ball. The Germans always seem to have that clinical edge but today they looked extra sharp. When a Dutch front like including Van Persie, Van Der Vaart, Sneijder, Robin & Van Huntetlaar look completely devoid of ideas its time for the other teams to start worrying…