Friday, June 22, 2012
We have decided to lie low in Kharkiv for three nights rather than run to Dnipropetrovs’k or Poltava. Earlier in the tournament we could and would have done it but the batteries are running low and Kharkiv is a fine, fine place to spend a few days in. We have had a fantastic time in Ukraine, rolling back the years. This is my third trip to the country. Ten years ago I seriously considered moving here for a year and now, in hindsight, I kind of wish I had given it a go for a few months. There is a madness; an electricity in the air that makes you feel very much alive and far removed from the predictability and rules of western European life. The summers are also amazing here – the thermometer rarely dropping below 25 degrees for several weeks.
Kharkiv was built on an impressive scale. During the 1920s and 30s it was the capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, while during WWII it was battered by the Nazis and the Red Army. It might not sound like the most appropriate thing to say but we get the sense that perhaps this city was closer to the utopian ideal of a Soviet city. It is certainly amongst the finest of the former USSR.
We enjoy varenyky and coffee and explore the city’s parks, squares and impressive architecture before kicking off the evening at a Mexican restaurant where the head chef hails from Ecuador. Close by there is a Lebanese restaurant where locals enjoy shisha and kebabs. This gives you some sense of the cosmopolitan nature of this city.
Germany power past Greece 4-2 but there are definitely chinks in the German armour which could yet be exposed against England or Italy next week. There are probably only 100 visiting football fans left in the city watching the match on the big screens of Freedom Square. Many of the fans that are still in Ukraine have tended to stick to Kyiv and missed out on the many pleasures of ‘Borderland’. We are out for the evening with Tania, Anja and Oksana and return to Shevchenko Park where it is Friday night and positively buzzing. Pairs of elegant girls promenade through the park while groups of friends chat on park benches and families enjoy the arcades and kids’ entertainment. It is like one giant fairground – a fairground where you can buy beer for 50 pence from 24-hour kiosks and sit by cooling fountains chatting to passers-by, before joining them in one of the outdoor clubs or bars, the DJ pumping out Russian and Ukrainian disco tunes long into the night.
Germany 4 Greece 2