Don′t Leave The Stadium!: Ukraine Counts Down To Euro 2012

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine is partly ready to host its share of Euro 2012, and with less than four months left until kick-off it′s almost certain to stay that way.

The former Soviet republic is the first ever to co-host a top international football tournament. Government spokesmen promise fans a top-level experience.

"We will be completely ready by the middle of May," said Markian Liubkivsky, chairman Ukraine's Euro 2012 state organizing committee, in a February statement.

"We will receive our guests properly."

But industry experts said Ukraine has remained largely immune to state efforts to replace Soviet tradition with international standards, and that visitors expecting proper service and reasonable prices are in for unpleasant surprises.

"It's not just sports infrastructure, but a general level of civilization," said Iryna Kushnir, an analyst for the Kiev-headquartered Institute of Practical Politics.

"We're just not ready for tourists."

The strong suit of Ukraine's Euro 2012 prep, both government officials and critics agree, are the country's four stadiums.

Donbass Arena, the 52,000-seat home ground for club side Shakhtar Donetsk built for an estimated 400 million dollars, has widely been rated a world-class venue since its 2009 opening.

But the planned site for the Euro 2012 final, Kiev's 70,00-seat Olympic Stadium, is less well off, with the stadium reconstruction finished but surrounding parking lots and grounds still a snow-covered construction site showing no worker activity in late February - despite government declarations game sites are "100 per cent finished."

Across Ukraine, signs of big government spending (frequently assisted by big business financing) abound.

New terminals in all four game city airports are open or, reportedly, will be complete by March.

The notorious Donetsk-Kharkiv highway, once the butt of Ukrainian motorist jokes as the country's most potholed and dangerous roadway, is mostly resurfaced and partly converted from two to four lanes.

The national railroad company Ukrzhelesnitsya in December began taking delivery of six Hyundai bullet trains which will halve transit times between the capital Kiev and the other three game cities.

Crew training began in South Korea in February and Ukraine's first high-speed rail should be operational by May, a Ukrzheleznistya statement said.

Ukrainian hospitality industry experts said visiting football fans, though probably able to watch games in a proper stadium and maybe even to get there by bullet train, will face massive room shortages and price-gouging not just from hotel managers but from restaurant owners and cabbies.

Hotel price quotes for Euro 2012, in Ukrainian game cities, are running between five and 10 times normal summer rates, according to widespread media reports.

Even a simple bunk-bed in a five-person hostel room costs, in Kiev during the tournament, the equivalent of 90 dollars, the news agency TSN reported.

Quotes for a single in a three-star hotel start at 250 dollars a night.

In Donetsk and Kharkiv rooms simply were sold out, the report said.

The website detailed a February visit by its expat operator to a leading Kiev restaurant where, because of communications problems with the waiter, he paid 250 dollars for a steak weighing a kilo.

"We have an unfortunate psychology, that any foreigner is seen only as a fat wallet that needs to be emptied," said Yulia Shurko, spokeswoman for Kiev Is A Hospitable City!, a civic promotion group.

Of the seven visiting sides playing group games in Ukraine only two - the French and the Swedes - elected to live in the country, with competitors like England and Germany choosing to train in Poland and commute to games by charter aircraft.

Borys Kolesnykov, vice prime minister and head of the country's Euro 2012 preparation effort, in February 16 comments said he "didn't understand" why so few teams were staying in Ukraine, a country with strong football infrastructure.

He conceded hotel price-gouging might keep fans away though, saying "it might be cheaper for them to fly to games than to stay here," according to an Unian news agency report.

"We have declared to the world we are able run an international-level sports tournament on a proper level," Kushnir said.

"But visitors should cross Ukraine out."

Source: DPA