Monday, June 25, 2012
Kyiv – Lviv
Young puts it in the top corner and one missed Italian kick later, Cole steps up to put England through on penalties. My subconscious surely couldn’t be so cruel as to serve up a dream about England beating Italy a few hours after being knocked out in Kyiv?
In central Kyiv, Oleksa parks up and I leg it to the Dynamo Kyiv shop to buy a Ukrainian national football shirt. This will be worn with pride in the coming months and is the ultimate memento from my fantastic time in Ukraine. Valeriy Lobanovskiy, Oleh Blokhin, Ihor Belanov and Andriy Shevchenko. Add the name Oleksa Popovych to this list of Ukrainian legends. I had never even met Oleksa before I came to Ukraine and yet his friendship and hospitality has gone way beyond what I might expect from even my best friends. We part company at Kyiv bus station promising to meet again in Kyiv or England or the Baltics.
It is another 540-kilometre journey from here to Lviv although leaving at 4pm, we are not due in until 3.30 in the morning. Once we are out of the big smoke with its amazing skyline, the Platini Highway west passes the familiar golden domes of churches and monasteries and thick pine forests that stretch for dozens of miles. Old ladies by the side of the road sell brooms, garlands and fruit kompots. We are hurtling along the Platini Highway at a top speed of 50 kilometres per hour. Imagine when we are forced to shudder to a stop as an entire village cross the Ukrainian equivalent of the M1 motorway with a large herd of dairy cows. Neil and I both suffered bouts of vivid hallucinations during our sleep-deprived time in Ukraine. Maybe I am imagining it all.
For the first time on the trip, violent storms aside, the weather is miserable as we head out west. Many of the towns we stop off at are also a little grim to say the least. I am not too happy at the news that thanks to the Platini Highway the bus is expected to get in to Lviv bus station at 2am, not 3.30am. That is Lviv bus station eight kilometres from the city centre, pitch dark, on my todd and with just 4-euro worth of Hryvnia on me after the Ukrainian shirt purchase.
Just to add to the fear, six gangsters get on the bus at one grim, rough-around-the-edges, dead end town at around 10pm. I don’t fancy getting off the bus at Lviv with these boys for company. They are though carrying some mystery packages and get dropped off 20 minutes later at a petrol station out in the sticks where a top of the range car with blacked out windows is awaiting them.
My fear necessitates zero sleep and total focus for when we do finally pull into a pitch black Lviv bus station at 2am. The only sign of life is five taxi drivers and a stumbling drunk. It is very much the night after the night before.