Archive for Ukraine
Nicknamed the “City of a Million Roses”, Donetsk probably isn’t a place on many peoples bucket list of place they simply have to visit. The city was founded by a Welshman called John Hughes who developed the coal and steel industry in the area and it is still an important centre for these industries in Ukraine today.
A by-product of the mining activities are the numerous spoil tips (aka slag heaps) that litter the landscape in and around the city. If you have ever flown to the Maldives, you will have seen the many islands dotted around in the Indian Ocean. On approach to Donetsk airport, the spoil tips are distributed around the countryside but that is where the tenuous link to the Maldives ends.
Donetsk was originally called Yusovka in recognition of the Welshman who settled here with his family and workers from South Wales to develop a steel plant and the coal mining industry. Today, it is still an important centre of steel works and is home to more than a million people. Due to it’s location in Eastern Ukraine, there are a significant number of ethnic Russians who actually outnumber Ukrainians.
As with many ex-Soviet cities, a large statue of Lenin is never far away. At the heart of Donetsk is Lenin Square complete with a statue of the man. Artema Street runs next to Lenin Square and people visiting for the first time may be surprised at the amount of trees and parks in the centre. In summer, temperatures are regularly into the mid 30s celcius (95F) so walking in the shade of the trees can be a welcome relief. There are a number of bars and cafes along Artema Street where you can have a drink and watch the world go by.
Like many towns and cities in this part of the world, there is plenty of history and places to discover. Unfortunately, time was limited as the main event was football.
Donetsk has a sporting heritage. It is home to the legendary Soviet pole vaulter Serhiy Bubka and regularly holds international competitions including Davis Cup matches. Shaktar Donetsk won the UEFA Cup in 2009 and in recent times, the Hockey Club, futsal team, volleyball team and basketball teams have also won various titles.
In the quest to become a Euro 2012 host city, Donetsk fought off competition from Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa. The magnificent Donbass Arena was selected for Group D matches, a quarter final and a semi final. Given the city’s links to Britain, perhaps it was fate that England would play two matches here.
The Donbass Arena is one of the best ‘new’ stadia I have visited on my travels. It is in a beautiful setting of woodland, lakes and lawns. At night time, it is beautifully illuminated. Nearby is a war museum with a few Soviet era tanks and various memorials to fallen soldiers from past conflicts.
Group D was made up of Ukraine, England, France and Sweden. Considering Ukraine were the host nation and would have had an influence on the venues, it is surprising they picked Donetsk as their record there is awful. In 8 attempts they have drawn twice and lost six times which hardly makes it a lucky stadium for them.
The first match of Euro 2012 in Donetsk was between England and France. The difficult journey to Donetsk (14 hours overnight train from Kiev) meant the numbers of England and France fans were much lower than normal but the local Russian and Ukrainian fans flocked to the game and the stadium was pretty close to capacity.
The game ended 1-1 and following the final whistle, it was time to board the coach to head back to Donetsk airport. The newly built airport is a superb building and moving through security to the aircraft was as smooth as anywhere I’ve been in the world.
My visit to Donetsk was only short but very enjoyable. If you are ever in this part of Ukraine, take time to look round. You may be pleasantly surprised, just as I was.
Later this year, Poland and Ukrane will host the 2012 European Football Championships. It is argueably the second biggest football tournament after the World Cup. My first England game was back in 1987 at the old Wembley Stadium. I stood behind the goal in a crowd of 100,000 as England drew 1-1 with Brazil. Gary Lineker gave England the lead before Mirandinha equalised. That goal prompted Newcastle United to sign him and he became the first Brazilian to play in England.
Over the following years, I went to various games but never to away matches. That changed after the World Cup in 2002 when I booked a week in KwaZulu Natal as England travelled to South Africa to play a friendly international in Durban. At the time, I didn’t really know anyway else travelling to watch the game so I just went by myself. I booked a few days diving up in Sodwana Bay in the north of the province before heading back to Durban for a couple of nights to watch the match. The lads I met were fantastic and I had a great time. I managed to get a lift to and from the old ABSA stadium on a coach and inside the stadium, a group of us were giving some beer by some South African fans. It was a great trip and I even saw Emile Heskey AND Gareth Southgate score.
From then, I decided I was going to go whereever possible and the following year, I went to my first tournament in Portugal. By now, I was meeting friends I’d made either to travel with or catching up once we arrived.
I travelled with a friend and we stayed in the beautiful city of Porto, travelling to Coimbra and Lisbon (three times) for the 4 England games. It was a superb time to be there with loads of happy people, sunshine, football and plenty of great memories. Since then, I’ve met some great people, many of whom are now very good friends. I’ve travelled to a long list of countries and places, many of which I would never have considered going to.
Naturally with so many trips, there are plenty of stories too. One of the few trips I missed was the away match in Baku, Azerbaijan. I really wanted to go but circumstances conspired against me. Everyone I speak to who went had a great time. Naturally, when husbands and boyfriends go away for a few days, they usually spend their last bit of local currency at the departure airport on some perfume for the wife or girlfriend. However, that was a bit too obvious for one England fan. Instead of a bottle of scent, he decided to take back an Azeri steam iron complete without English instructions.
My favourite away trip was the 2 match tour to the United States in 2005 which saw England play USA at Soldier Field in Chicago followed a few days later against Columbia at the Giants stadium in New York. It was my first visit to Chicago and I loved it.
The game was played on the Saturday so we took the opportunity for a bit of sightseeing on the Sunday ahead of our early morning flight to Newark. A friend and I took a Gangster tour to see the old haunts of Capone and Dillinger. The tour was excellent and dropped us off outside a bar at about 3pm. Conscious of our early start, we just went in for a quick drink. We got back to the hotel around 1am ready for our 5am pickup. Somehow, we got up and made it down to the car who whisked us off to the airport. After a while, the driver announced we were getting close to O’Hare. Unfortunately, we were flying from Midway which resulted in a sharp U-turn and some liberal interpretations of the speed limits. We just made our flight and I’d never been more grateful to get into a hotel room early when we finally got to Jersey City.
The next day was an early start at the local pub for a full English breakfast and an early-ish departure to the Giants Stadium for my first tailgating experience. The pub very kindly provided us with a keg of beer which was easily consumed before the game.
A few years ago, England supporters had a terrible (and well deserved) reputation but today, it is very different. Despite travelling in huge numbers, there are hardly any arrests. This is mainly due to the tight controls on getting tickets for away matches. Unless you are a member of the official supporters club, you don’t have a chance. Even then, matches do get over-subscribed but a loyalty scheme ensures the regulars get tickets while also allowing new comers access to some tickets.
Depending on the destination, the biggest challenge is booking travel and accommodation. There is one fan I know who refuses to fly. Luckily, he is retired and goes to many of the games by train. The furthest away trip he took was to Almaty for the World Cup 2010 qualifying in Kazakhstan along the old Silk route. It took something like 5 days to get there and another 5 to get back. I haven’t travelled to an away game entirely by train yet but it was be a wonderfully relaxing option compared to tackling airports.
A couple of years ago, I drove to Paris for a game. I left a couple of days ahead of the match to take in the Battlefields around Ypres and the Somme. They were well worth visiting and I’m sure I’ll go back again someday. My SatNav was invalueable in finding all the little villages and memorials. In 2006 ahead of England’s first game in the World Cup, I was told the story of one fan who really should have bought a SatNav or at least learned how to read a map. This lad from Hull had bought a cheap camper van…and I do mean cheap. The headlights didn’t even work but this was in the middle of summer so it shouldn’t have been a problem. Our intrepid fan made his way to Frankfurt in his little van, parked up and found a bar. He casually said to the barman
“Its pretty quiet in town considering England are playing here tomorrow”
The barman was puzzled as this little town on the German / Polish border wasn’t a World Cup venue. It soon became clear, our friend from Hull had gone to the wrong Frankfurt. Now he had to get right across Germany in his old campervan, without any headlights. Thankfully, he made it and he had learned his lesson. The most important thing was that England also beat Paraguay 1-0.
However, the majority of fans do fly and many prefer to travel independently rather than use the more expensive day trips. Airlines don’t tend to add extra capacity so the seats that are available are generally sold quickly. The prices appear to go up quickly and some accuse the airlines of hiking prices. I don’t believe this is the case, its simply a matter of the cheaper seats being sold a lot more quickly than normal.
Groups of fans who travel together will plan their travel ahead of the seats being released. Sometimes, delaying by even a few minutes can result in fares in some cases doubling or more. Its not all expensive though. I know some fans who travelled to Geneva to watch England play Argentina in a friendly a few years ago who paid just £32. They caught a flight on the morning of the game with the return late in the evening. There was no need for a hotel on this trip.
This summer, England and Ireland will take part in the Euro 2012 Finals. Ireland will play their matches in Poland while England fans will have to travel further to Ukraine with games in Donetsk and Kiev. Travelling to Donetsk is especially tricky due to the distance from Kiev and relative lack of accommodation in the city. This summer, I’ll travel to the games for the first time on day trips. Its not a tournament I’m particularly excited about and in 2013, England will return to Ukraine to play a 2014 World Cup qualifier. I’ve already been to Kiev once with England so in 2013, I’ll aim to see the sights I missed last time round.
On the 9th May 1945, the weapons fell silent as the struggle in Europe came to a finish. The Western Allies and the Soviet army had smashed the German forces and every year, Russia marks the occasion with a victory parade.
2010 is the 65th anniversary and this year’s celebration in Moscow will be a bit diverse. Presentations started a few days earlier when twenty-two British veterans from the Arctic convoys were awarded medals by the Russian envoy to the Britain, Yury Fedotov. The veterans had helped ferry necessities to the northern Russian cities of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. In total, nearly 1,400 ships help keep the Soviet Union supplied.
As part of the Victory Parade, there will be a fly past of nearly 130 airplanes and helicopters from different periods of history. Over time, Red Square has experienced countless parades devised to show off the strength of the Soviet forces but this year, the parade will have a more international feel about it. Troops of the Welsh Regiment from the British Army, US 18th Infantry Regiment, pilots from the French Normandie-Nieman squadron and an honour guard from the Polish military will all march with army units from Russia and other CIS nations.
As well as the Victory Parade in Moscow, there will also be celebrations in other cities too. In Ukraine, 75 Russian paratroopers will march through Kiev as the country celebrates the end of World War II which was also known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union. The Russian unit was invited to take part by the Ukraine government
At 1:23am on 26th April 1986, an explosion at the number 4 reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew the roof open and sent a cloud of radioactive dust into the sky.
In recent times, organizations began leading excursions to the area surrounding Chernobyl. The full day tours leave Kiev at 9am and these have to be reserved in advance. Names of individuals on the excursion have to be submitted and you are required to take your passport. If your name is not on the list or you don’t have your passports, the guards at the edge of the exclusion zone will not let you in as some folks on our bus found to their horror and had to jump off the bus. The checkpoint is roughly 78km (49 miles) from Kiev and there is absolutely nothing to do there. From this point the bus makes its way into the exclusion zone and doesn’t return for several hours.
At the moment of the disaster, Chernobyl was home to 14,000 folk and nowadays, a few hundred people still live inside the exclusion area and quite a few people building work in the town for around 4 days a week. The excursion began in Chernobyl for a conventional Ukraine lunch. First stop is the fire station where there is a monument to the fearless fireman who battled to contain the radiation numerous of whom died of radiation sickness.
Next stop is the Chernobyl power plant where you have your first sight of the deserted buildings. There are two or three visits in and around the plant and you get to within 200-300 metres of the reactor. Today, it is hard to believe what transpired here but the guides Geiger counter leaves you under no illusions that there is still a substantial amount of background radiation in the area.
The last stop is at the ghost town of Pripyat which is situated less than two miles from the power plant. On the day of the disaster it was a larger urban centre than Chernobyl with a population of around 50,000. Having said that, police evacuated the populace with very little notice and it is an eerie place to visit. Books lie all surrounding the class rooms, the fun fair which was due to be opened on 1st May 1986, is slowly rusting away and nature has started to reclaim the roads, town square and architectural structures.
The excursion departs Pripyat and returns to the edge of the exclusion zone where everyone need to pass through a scanner to confirm they haven’t been exposed to abnormal quantities of radiation. After everyone is back on the bus has been given the all clear, it travels back to Kiev.
Kiev is the capital of Ukraine and will host the Euro 2012 Finals final. All through the competition, 1000s of people will descend on the urban centre from all parts of Europe to be part of the action.
Kiev is a wonderful city and a great tourist choice but it does suffer from a lack of accommodation rooms. There are two or three extremely good 5* hotels such as the Hyatt Regency, Radisson and Premier Palace not to mention many 3* and 4* places, some dating back to Soviet times.
Nonetheless, in total, they are probably not going to present a sufficient amount of rooms for all the officals, media and supporters who will descend upon Kiev in the summer of 2012. This will obviously be a predicament but there is a pretty good solution on the market.
All through the urban centre are lots of flats which are available to rent. There are a variety of rental agents offering places to stay of many different sizes and areas all over the city. There are sufficient advantages for choosing an apartment as an alternative to a Kiev hotel.
Firstly, the service will be far more personal with a rental agent than with a hotel. They are able to assist you with all sorts of things such as airport transfers and excursions. Even the smallest flats will have a lot more space than a hotel room. Most have internet connection which is very useful for the people travelling with a laptop.
The flats also have brilliant areas near the Kiev urban centre centre. The city’s underground system also makes it possible for you to get around quite easily. There are plenty of small shops and supermarkets which means that meals are much cheaper than eating out each day as you’re able to prepare food in your apartments kitchen.
Apartment costs will also be considerably better value than hotels consequently all in all, apartments should really be considered when planning your stay in Kiev in 2012.
Just after 1am on 26th April 1986 about 100km north of Kiev, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded sending a blanket of radioactive dust into the air. Only one person was killed in the initial explosion but with time, it is regarded nearly 500,000 persons have perished because of the effects of radiation following the explosion.
The storyline of that terrible chain of events is portrayed at the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev which not merely have an affect on people in Ukraine but additionally Belarus, sections of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Coupled with presenting the explanation for the explosion as well as its horrendous effects, the Chernobyl museum has many individual items from individuals who worked in the plant as well as pilots and firemen that assisted contain the radiation and seal the reactor. You will find images of the power plant and the people involved in the containment and clean up operation.
The museum is somewhat tricky to find. The easiest way is to take the metro (blue line) to Kontraktova Ploshchad and it is a few streets away. The address is 1 Kharyvyj Pereulok and this road runs in between Khoryva Street and Spaska Street. Left of the entrance is a commemorative statue and on the right are two or three rescue vehicles. Entry to the museum was 2UAH and the rent of the audio commentary was an additional 5UAH. Languages available were English and German.
The tour around the museum needs around one hour and is really worth a visit whether you are preparing a tour to Chernobyl or not. With a street map of Kiev and a spot of preparation, a visit to the museum can quite simply be a part of a day’s sightseeing around the metropolis.