This really does feel like the furthest corner of the EU. As we near Ukraine, Poland does appear to be getting ‘rougher’ and ‘earthier’ until, after a couple of hours on the road, we reach the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian officials in very big hats seem to spend most of their time pacing up and down before congregating in huddles to discuss various matters, almost all of them seemingly cash-related.
I guess you could say that an hour to get through the EU/Ukrainian border is pretty good going and we are on course to arrive in Lviv before it gets dark.
As soon as we cross the border all of the signs, of course, are immediately in Cyrillic and there is a far more rural feel to proceedings. It is not long before we pass horse and carts and most of the one-storey dachas are straight out of a Leo Tolstoy novel. The last time I was in Ukraine – a decade ago – the Lada count was very high, maybe as much as 70 percent outside of Kyiv. Ten years on, I was half expecting the Lada to be relatively inconspicuous but, in this rural corner of western Ukraine at least, almost every other car you see is the iconic Lada.
The bus drops us off at Lviv’s southern Avtobus Vokzal, a few kilometers south of the city. Two German lads – Philip Lahm and Zen Meister – are the only other foreign football punters to have made this same journey and the four of us join up forces and jump in a Lada taxi adjacent to the bus station. I have spent the last couple of weeks brushing up on my pathetically poor Russian skills, well aware that there will be many times in Ukraine when the English language simply won’t suffice. On this occasion it feels like it has been well worth the effort as the world’s friendliest taxi driver takes us into Lviv and gives us the lowdown on the city.
The Ukrainian authorities did actually spend some money on the road we drove in on from Poland but as soon as we begin driving into Lviv city centre, potholed cobble-stoned roads, which the driver does his best to swerve, are the norm.
Nearby we enjoy the many delights of Fashion Club where most of the female clientele look like supermodels and we enjoy a fantastic night out with the local Ukrainians. It is one of the best nights out I have personally had at any of the UEFA or FIFA tournaments I have attended and probably ends at around six.