Deepest Darkest Ukraine
We had four days before the quarter final in Kiev and decided to head down to the Black Sea for a bit of relaxation before the trip back to Kiev. We jumped on a train down to Maruipol and got lucky with a taxi driver who drove us half an hour down the coast to a ‘hotel’ – i.e. his relatives guesthouse. This was one of the best experiences of Ukraine – it was nice to get off the beaten track and visit a place where no other English people or football fans would be.
The guesthouse owners took us in and looked after us like royalty. The area in SouthEast Ukraine is predominately Russian speaking and the little Ukrainian we had learned didn’t get us too far. I have to admit this area is hardly the most beautiful place we have ever visited on our travels. Mining is the main industry and as we got the train down we passed the hugest industrial buildings I have ever seen – blurting out open fire and smog into the already gray skyline. As result, the beach also wasnt the cleanist and the water was a pale brown at best. However, for what the general environment lacked, the local holiday resort of Melekeyne was pleasant and our guesthouse was amazing – haveing beautifal gardens and being two minutes from the beach.
It was actually really good to get away from all the trains and travelling and relax on the beach, away from the tournament tension. The first evening out was an experience in itself, being invited to drink vodka with a Russian shop owner and his son. Strangely, despite being the closest we have ever been to Russian, the bar ownder Sergei Senior managed to pull out some ‘English Vodka’ from his collection which he proceeded to swig down in massive gulps. An interesting night ended up heading down the beach in the pitch black in search of a late night bar in the with a random Russian who Sergei described as ‘a drunks and dangerous mans’ just as we deperted in his company!!
Prior to our departed in seach or the next beer, we spoke to Sergei junior. Russian speaking, fluent in Ukrainian and competent in English it was clear the education system in Ukraine was doing a good job. His aim was to apply to an English University when he was 18. I got the impression that the goal is to get out of the locality and earn decent money abroad – this isn’t a well-off area of the county and very differnt to the big cities like Kiev and Donetsk. The accomodation is all very basic, the roads are untarmacked and the place has a very provincial feel to it. However, the people all seem to get along just fine and we couldnt thank them enough for their hospitality and friendship. We were given free home cooked meals for the duration of our stay and our hosts just wouldnt accept any money from us – I feel terrible as we didn’t get an email address to say thank you so if our friends from Melekyne ever get to read this – thank you very much!!
One of the benefits of following England away is that it presents the opportunity to travel to places which we wouldn’t usually visit – to explore a country that would otherwise be much lower down the priority list of places to visit. UEFA have decided that Euro 2020 will not be hosted by one country, but by a selection of host cities from all around Europe. This format means counties like Ukraine won’t have the opportunity to build up it’s infrastrucute towards a set date and look forward to hosting a tournament in which it can showcase itself to the world. It also misses the point that football fans from around the world will get the meet and explore the culture, bars and people of a single country together. A European-wide tournament will be held in all the big cities that people have visited before: Rome, London, Madrid, Barcelona…etc – the same cities that host massive Champions Leagues matches almost every month. It will miss out on the fun of visiting places like Kharkiv, somewhere I had never even heard of before the tournament. I’m not usually someone to bash an idea before it has even got out of the box – but on this one UEFA, please dont try and fix something that isn’t broke, especially without consulting the fans that make these tournaments what they are.