Ukraine Back On Track With Euro 2012 Preparations

KIEV, Ukraine -- It's midnight at Kiev's Olympic Stadium, but the welding crews are still hard at it, burning steel girder after girder, under bright floodlights and swinging gantry cranes.

Borys Kolesnykov

'Ukraine will meet its Euro 2012 obligations,' said Borys Kolesnykov, head of the former Soviet Union's preparation effort, at a recent meeting with foreign reporters. 'We will fully back on schedule by January.'

The UEFA in 2007 named Ukraine and Poland co-hosts for Euro 2012, but lack of funding and bureaucratic infighting has dogged the Ukrainian preparation effort.

UEFA head Michel Platini, fed up with Kiev's missed deadlines and excuses, in May threatened to sack Ukraine as a host country outright, to be replaced by Germany or even Hungary.

But evidence is piling up to show that the Ukrainians are finally hitting their Euro 2012 preparation stride.

Kiev's 80,000-seat Olympic stadium, planned venue for the tournament final, for years was the poster child for Ukraine's failure even to begin preparing for an expected one million international visitors.

A badly-needed overhaul of the 1980s-era structure was stagnating as tycoons traded lawsuits over design, architects, general contractors, and even the very title of the land the stadium was sitting on.

Today, a shopping centre adjacent to Olympic stadium, condemned by UEFA as making safe fan evacuation impossible, but owned by one of the tycoons, has been flattened. The tree trunks supporting sagging reinforced concrete in upper seating are gone, replaced by a steel lattice rising by day and by night.

Kiev's Boryspil airport on Tuesday opened a new terminal nearly doubling capacity. The structure 'was as good as Heathrow (London),' said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A trolly line connecting Kiev's centre to its western suburbs will open by the end of the year, giving football fans in one of the Ukrainian capital's most densely-populated districts, their first- ever rapid transit from home to the Olypmic stadium.

Even an ancient stadium owned by the designated host city Lviv, and a cash-strapped city council unable for three years to decide which political faction would manage the reconstruction, now is seeing progress, Segodnya newspaper reported.

The Yanukovych government unconstitutionally but nonetheless effectively jump-started the Lviv stadium overhaul, by sacking the Lviv city council as the agency allowed to order stadium repairs, naming the central government as the new legal contracting party, and hiring a contractor from President Yanukovych's home town Donetsk to do the work, according to the report.

The Lviv stadium overhaul is proceeding 24/7, and according to Kolesnykov the 33,000-seat arena will be ready by the end of 2011.

Club-owned stadia in Donetsk and Kharkiv, Ukraine's other two designated host cities, are fully ready, with the one in Donetsk, the 51,000 seat Donbass Arena, meeting the UEFA's top 5-star rating.

'The UEFA notes dramatic progress in (Ukraine's) completion of infrastructural projects for Euro 2012,' said Markian Liubkivsky, head of the UEFA mission to Ukraine. 'There has been a substantial increase in the tempo of preparation, and the quality of work execution, in the last four months.'

Weak points remain. Few experienced travelers believe the government's promises of thousands of kilometres of new high-speed rail and European-standard roads. Almost no one expects, as the Interior Ministry still maintains, all Ukrainian police officers on Euro 2012 duty will know enough English to assist a lost fan.

Hotel rooms are short everywhere but Lviv, and officials are still talking about making up the deficit by tying up cruise ships at city wharfs as impromptu fan lodging, or building roads to Soviet-era sanatoria in outlying woods, from which fans would commute to games.

But nationwide, from officials to media to veteran fans, there is growing agreement: where once Euro 2012 preparations were typical proof of what is wrong in the Ukraine, now, things have changed for the better.

'We did it as we always do things, we waited until the last minute, and then panicked' said Serhy Kolesniuk, a long-time Dynamo Kiev supporter. 'Money will be wasted, and it will not be perfect, but surely Ukraine will not shame itself when Euro 2012 gets here. I think that somehow, we will be ready.'

Source: DPA