Ukraine: A Football Fan’s Travel Guide

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With the start of the UEFA Euro 2012 football championship now only six weeks away, England supporters will be anticipating their team’s opening game against France in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday June 11. But how prepared are travelling fans for navigating around a country that is not yet a regular tourist destination?

Those supporters intending to stay in Ukraine, at least for the duration of England’s three group-stage matches, will have to contend with a serious amount of travelling within a country that is close to two and a half times larger than the UK. The second England game is against Sweden in the Olimpiysky Stadium, Kiev, on June 15. Kiev is 369 miles from Donetsk, but it is a journey that ardent supporters will have to make twice, as they must return to the Donbass Stadium, Donetsk for the final group game against the home nation on June 19.

There are several options for travelling between Donetsk, a city in the west of the country that owes much of its development to the mining industry, and Kiev, the country’s centrally located capital. Rail is an obvious choice that offers a relatively comfortable and cost effective means of travel, but has a typical overnight journey time of twelve hours. The ticket price, one way, is approximately £38 for second class. A high-speed train was due to be operating in time for the championships, cutting the journey time to five and a half hours, but there currently appears to be no format available for booking this.

Another cheap option is to take one of the frequent bus services between the cities at less than £20 one-way, but again, be prepared to sit back and enjoy the scenery with a journey time that is also likely to take twelve hours or more. There are regular flights between the cities but they are considerably more expensive and seats could be difficult to come by at this late stage.

Driving between the cities, either in a rental car picked up on arrival or your own car if you have decided to bite the bullet and drive across most of Europe, is an option with plenty of pros and cons. On the plus side, you can sample more of the ‘real’ Ukraine by travelling across country at your own pace, and accommodation in towns that are a distance away from the championship venues is almost certain to be less expensive. However, on the down side, the standard of some of the country’s roads is poor to say the least, while the city roads are congested, and populated by motorists that drive with a ‘spirit of adventure’ that make them not for the faint-hearted. Also, while experiencing Ukraine’s backwaters might provide you with more of an insight into an intriguing country that few of your social group are likely to have visited, it is worth remembering that once away from the major cities you will be exposed to locals whose inexperience with tourists is likely to make them suspicious, off-hand, or even downright rude. Non-white visitors in particular could find a level of prejudice in some quarters that they would be unlikely ever to experience in Western Europe. And on the subject of personal security, whether in a major city or a smaller town, try to avoid flashing expensive jewellery or wads of money, Ukraine is still a relatively poor country and being seen as a rich Westerner will not earn you any more respect and could make you a target for scammers and thieves.

Basic medical facilities in Ukraine are not to Western European standards, either in the proficiency of medical staff, or in terms of facilities and equipment. Should you need medical attention while visiting the country you will be best served at one of the Private Clinics. These tend to cater for Ukraine’s middle class, so you will have to pay for the care that you receive, keep the receipts and make a claim on your travel insurance on your return.

By applying some pre-planning and common sense, experiencing a football tournament in Ukraine should certainly provide for a more memorable event than those hosted by nations that we are more familiar with . If England progress past the group stage, possibilities open up for travel to other cities in Ukraine or into Poland, all the way to the final in…but this is England that we are talking about, so perhaps we should take one step at a time!

Colin Gibson

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