Pauline Tillman reviews the mixed feelings associated with the building of new stadiums in Kiev and Lviv.
Kiev / Lviv– The sun burns on Sasha's skin, as sweat forms on his glistening forehead. Bent over, he sits on a stair and pastes a small groove with grey color on a 28°C day. 27-year-old Sasha Kandiba is a construction worker in the “Olympic Stadium” of Kiev, where the final match of the European Football Championship will take place in 2012. The stadium, which is currently under construction, “will be ready in October”, assures vice premier and minister for infrastructure, Borys Kolesnikov.
For this reason, Sasha and 2,000 other construction workers slave away at the unfinished building from dusk till dawn. They are welding, excavating, boring and digging. The design for the new stadium is made by Hamburg architects Gerkan, Marg and partner (gmp), Alexandra Grytsenok, press officer of the stadium, goes into raptures about the construction: “The membrane is unique in Europe”. In the beginning of June, the first deliveries of the miracle material arrived – material that is resistant to fire, semi-transparent, and also self-cleaning. It will spread out on about 50,000 and lead refracted sunlight to the lawn. Actually, the stadium was supposed to be designed by Taiwanese company Archasia Design Group. However, the contract was discontinued three years ago "because of a lack of experience in the building business". The design of Gerkan, Marg and partner intends to be a reconstruction of the old stadium. However, the development has become more complicated than expected.
Progress for the future, or just for now?
The European Football Championship 2012 will be hosted in four Ukrainian cities. In both Donezk and Charkiv the stadiums have already been finished – but not yet in Kiev and Lviv. Even Kiev’s citizens are skeptical whether their stadium can open its doors this year. Stadium speaker Grytsenok says: “I know that many people are skeptical, but deep-down they are glad about EURO 2012 because their children will benefit from this stadium, too.” The children will also struggle above all with the debts that have so far accumulated. Originally the costs for the “Olympic Stadium” in Kiev were estimated at 200 million Euros. However, recent estimate suggest they have doubled, at more than 450 million Euros. Whether or not corruption also plays its usual role cannot be proven. “The stadium is 87 percent finished – this is a fact", explains stadium speaker Grytsenok, smiling uncertainly.
“Nevertheless, nobody is interested in the fact that the stadium is now 70, 80 or 90 percent finished," says souvenir shop owner Anatolij, annoyed. “The only important thing is that the people have enough to survive at the end of the month." With an average income of 220 Euros per month / capita, Ukraine is part of the poorest countries in Europe. “There will be more tourists due to the European Football Championship — this is of course good for our business”, Anatolij says, “but they will come for one month only”. The souvenir shop owner from Kiev is skeptical that anything will be changed permanently by this major event. His neighbor Sergeij has a different opinion: “The whole country is looking forward to the games – and so am I!” Sergeij wants to buy tickets in any case because he sees the Ukrainian national team amongst the top three countries.
Oleg Zasadny is not that optimistic. He coordinates the EURO 2012 office in Lviv, in the West of Ukraine, only a few kilometers away from the Polish border. The 46-year-old believes less in the Ukrainian football team than in the city of Lviv. “Primarily, we want to improve the living conditions for the inhabitants.” This implies investment in roads, in a new airport terminal and, of course, in a new stadium. The costs for the latter amount to about 140 million euro. After the European Football Championship it will be used above all by the local football association FC Karpaty Lviv, which played against the German team of Borussia Dortmund in the Europe League in December 2010.
Hotels expand in preparation for EURO 2012
In the very center of Lviv, only a few walking minutes away from the opera, sits the traditional hotel “George”. It was opened in 1781 and ranges amongst the oldest hotels in all of Ukraine. In summer 2010 it was renovated, so that most of the rooms now offer a bath and toilet. At the "George" well-known personalities such as Honoré de Balzac, Franz Liszt and Jean-Paul Sartre have already lodged there. Today it is managed by the 23-year-old Anastasiya Kerechan: “We are very happy about EURO 2012 – the games will give us many new possibilities for the future and will help to promote our city worldwide.”
About one million tourists come to Lviv each year. Most of them are from Poland, Ukraine and Germany. Regarding the major football event, experts expect 400,000 additional tourists to flock to Ukraine in June 2012 alone. In Lviv, up to eight new hotels for every purse are constructed per year to handle this mass. At hotel “George” one can get a room from 35 to 90 euro per night by now. “If we will host EURO 2012, then we will raise the rates, of course", says hotel manager Kerechan, “but we will aim for our rates to remain affordable for everybody".
Total costs up to ten billion Euros for Ukraine
The Ukrainian government reckons the costs for the European Football Championship to be ten billion euro. Interestingly Poland’s budget is twice as high with an estimated 21 billion Euros – but 40 percent of this amount, 8.4 billion Euros, is provided by the EU structural fund. “We do not have this support because we are not a member of the European Union", says manager Oleg Zasadny soberly, “but we make the best out of it nevertheless, because this event will move our country one important step forward – in terms of infrastructure, tourism and above all, investors." Asked if everything will be ready on time, he answers self-confidently: “We are running out of time, especially with the roads, but without any doubt we will definitely complete it before June 2012.”