Ukraine finally 'switches on' for Euro 2012

Ukraine's promotional film for its co-hosting of the Euro 2012 football championship proudly shows the lights coming on and sun rising all over the diverse country as it gears up for its biggest event ever.

Updated: February 17, 2011 12:00 IST
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Kiev: Ukraine's promotional film for its co-hosting of the Euro 2012 football championship proudly shows the lights coming on and sun rising all over the diverse country as it gears up for its biggest event ever.

The video is called "Switch on Ukraine" but concerns about the slack pace of building, government interference in football and a lack of transparency in the awarding of contracts had raised fears over whether the country is ready.

Ukraine was plunged into recession by the economic crisis and in elections last year pro-Russian authorities defeated the pro-Western politicians who had originally won the event in the wake of the Orange Revolution.

It faced the challenge ahead of the June 2012 kick-off of building often non-existent infrastructure in cities which lacked Western standard hotels and whose airport terminals were nothing more than a single small building.

However, new President Viktor Yanukovych has made clear the extravaganza -- to be co-hosted with Poland -- is among his government's top priorities and there is no chance of the country relinquishing its dream of holding the event.

And observers say that finally the building schedule appears to be on track.

"It's clear that there is lots of work left but the last year has seen rapid progress in the works. We truly see this with a positive eye," said UEFA spokesman Thomas Jiordano.

Four Ukrainian cities are to host the tournament, with the capital Kiev having the honour of hosting the final on July 1, 2012.

-- Donetsk: The main city of eastern Ukraine, which since 2009 has boasted a new stadium for the Euro 2012 and the beloved home team Shakhtar, courtesy of Yanukovych ally Rinat Akhmetov, a local oligarch who is Ukraine's richest man.

A new airport is going to be operational this year and according to mayor Olexander Lukianchenko a problem with a lack of hotel beds will be solved by September.

-- Kharkiv: Ukraine's former capital is seeing the final touches put to a new stadium but major renovation of its small-scale airport and the building of hotels is continuing.

-- Kiev: The capital's new stadium is to welcome its first match on August 24 this year.

-- Lviv: The only city in the more nationalist and Ukrainian speaking west to host matches, the state of preparations in Lviv has been the subject of the greatest concern.

Its stadium is now 70 percent ready, officials say, but work is continuing on a new terminal at the city's small airport.

Yanukovych, aided by respected Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnykov, has pulled out the stops, declaring that "we have spent a lot of public money and energy to get back on schedule and now we are making progress."

The effort did not, however, prevent the gaffe-prone president turning a speech on the Euro 2012 in Davos last month into something of an embarrassment.

He became ensared into a major verbal tangle as he tried to say the slogan "Switch on Ukraine" in Ukrainian -- a language he is less comfortable in than Russian.

He then outraged feminists by declaring foreigners should come to Ukraine in spring to witness its scantily dressed girls.

But when UEFA in January shocked Ukraine by threatening to withdraw its right to host the event due to problems within the football federation, the issue was resolved after the president speedily intervened.

But despite the signs of progress, one shadow remains -- allegations by the opposition and the press that contracts for the building have been distributed in an opaque way.

Former prime minister turned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has slammed the rise in spending for Euro 2012 as unjustified with the estimated cost of the Kiev stadium and a new road near Lviv rising exponentially.

Influential online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda has meanwhile accused the government of handing out contracts to favoured companies without going through any proper tender process.

A building group based in Donetsk, the home stronghold of Yanukovych, for example has won several construction contracts worth over six billion hrvynias (750 million dollars) in tender offers in which it was the only bidder, according to Ukrainska Pravda.

Government spokesman Yuriy Gromnitskiy, however, dismissed the allegations as "unfair", saying that the government has not had the time to go through the normal tender process which would have taken too long.

He accused the Tymoshenko administration, meanwhile, of "manipulating the numbers" to hide the true cost of work.

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