Kiev, Ukraine 16.06 (Die Frisseur helt) (that’s a joke that the boys kept telling yesterday ever since we had to go onto the tarmac in Zürich to catch our AirFrance flight. It’s apparently from an ad for hairspray.)
We met Stef at the bus stop at 5:39 and were all relatively fit, despite the early hour. At the airport things went smoothly and we had a coffee and snack and I was far calmer than I usually am pre-travel. The calm held while we arrived in Paris and discovered that the time we needed to get from one terminal to the next meant that we would miss our connecting flight. Luckily, as we learned this, we also learned that there was another flight 3 hours later, which would get us there in time to have dinner with our hosts and get to the game on time. (Die Ruhe helt.) We went to customer service and got our new tickets, called Vladi, who’d wanted to pick us up, to tell him we were delayed and I ran to the bathroom. When I exited the bathroom, I couldn’t find the boys and began to freak out. I reached them on our cell phone and the decision was made to eat some food. (Most likely the reason for the freak-out. It was already 10 am and I’d not yet eaten.)
After a harrowing flight with dips and dives and crazy turbulence, we arrived safely in Kiev and began our Cyrilic alphabet lessons with Ivo while waiting for passport control. We then nabbed our luggage and discovered that Steff’s bag had not arrived. (As I write this, it still hasn’t arrived) Ivo took the opportunity to show us that we needn’t worry because he knew the language and was unafraid to go from one line to the next, getting a form stamped and then going back again.
Vladi was waiting for us with bottles of water and a large station wagon to accommodate our luggage (Steff’s bag was the smallest of our travel gear.) He has such a large car because he is an RC model plane flyer. It’s been a hobby since his days in the Air force as a youth. We eaked out of the parking lot and then zoomed crazily around highways. Despite using a Vladi’s clever detour, we hit traffic next to some gorgeous fields with vegetables and cows. In the breakdown lane, a line of Ukrainians who had no time for such traffic reversed back to the rotary in an orderely line. Another car simply drove over the field to bypass the traffic. Vladi spotted the origin of traffic, where cars were driving normally, about 100 meters or so ahead. “Good news! It’s just an accident” (the accident was gnarly – a Zhiguli had been destroyed.) While waiting in the traffic, a spotty young man appeared out of nowhere and began making inquiries of Vladi. Vladi responded monosyllabically and I began to imagine that the fellow was begging, until he began to smile widely, thanked Vladi and ran back to a car which he’d left (and I hadn’t seen before) to drive slowly forward with the last of the traffic. Apparently the young man had just ordered the same car that Vladi was driving and wanted to know if he was satisfied with it.
We were not only gifted the useful water on that trip. Vladi had also bought us a SIM card. He had to explain it a bit, as it was written in Ukranian and not Russian. We got to their house and instantly were greeted with wonderful smells from the kitchen. Larissa had been cooking. We were worried about being late to the match once the food began to be served and after the third time standing to toast something else with our vodka or beer. Luckily, the France Ukraine game had a rain delay and our game was thus also delayed. We ate and drank and gave our wonderful hosts their gifts, were shown our amazing apartment and then Vladi sweetly drove us to the Metro station.
Our Metro station is above ground. At 9:30 pm it was still light enough that the interior lights weren’t yet in use. They would simply blink before a stop. When they went on and stayed on, we knew that we were headed underground. Many metro stations in the post-soviet space are hundreds of meters underground (700-800 in some places.) They are meant to double as nuclear bomb shelters. This makes me wonder about the extreme depth of the Metro stations in Washington DC. Announcements along our trip were helpfully broadcast in Ukrainian and English; a lovely effort by the Eurocup host country. Upon arrival at our first transfer, purple (the color of this Eurocup) signs with football flowers showed us the way to the train that would take us to the FanZone and finally the Stadium. Really, all we needed to do was follow the loud Brits and Swedes. At this point, we began to see the sweet baby-faced guards who were watching the crowds. They are young police academy students and look like spotty pre-teens with their tall hats perched on the backs of their buzzed heads.
As we ascended to the FanZone, an 8 year old England fan was blowing on an obnoxious horn. We all confirmed how grateful we were that vuvuzelas had been banned and I began to hope that this other form of horn (a canister with a handle, the boy blew into an opening and seemed to be able to control the volume with the intensity of his breathe – it sounded like an angry duck) would be banned next Cup. As I was beginning to get properly frustrated with this boy, we came upon another group of baby-officers and the boy demonstrated how quietly and politely he could make his horn sound. Soon we were in a pleasantly sized and spaced crowd of fans. The excitement was building but the stadium was not yet in sight. We were just a jolly group of football fans, walking in the middle of a closed 4-lane road.
A group of fans in crosses of Saint George began singing the national anthem and Ivo admitted sadly that we were likely missing the actual anthem at that very moment. (We did not yet know that our game would be politely delayed due to the first game’s delay.) Ivo has always cherished the National anthems at the International tournaments “it’s what makes them so special.” He’d told me before about the fact that his grandmother (the woman responsible for his football fandom) used to think that it was a shame when players didn’t sing along to their national anthem (I imagine that Spain is excluded from this criticism, as they have no words.)
As we approached the stadium and walked through a small barrier, I’m embarrassed to say that I felt like I was in the fourth Harry Potter movie. Those special effects used for the world quidditch cup stadium were the only thing near what I was seeing now. The stadium was out of this world.
We came in and then walked around half of the stadium to get to our section. Choosing to avoid the concourse, we walked around the exterior and tried to judge from fan sounds and announcer sounds if how far into the game they were (no one thought to check their watch, for fear of disappointment.) We saw blue and yellow uniforms playing against dark uniforms on the screens through the gate and thought that the game was already on. Little did we know that they were showing the France Ukraine match.
Our seats were crazy close. I’ve never been that close before. (FCZ’s stadium has a very large racing track around its pitch, which creates a good barrier for flaming garbage and crazy fans, so one could never be this close. The speed and intensity was so much more impressive at this distance. We were sat among Sweden fans and a smattering of England fans. My sense of self-preservation led me to cheer for Sweden, but Steff and Ivo stuck with England, despite the company it meant that they were keeping. A drunken English man with a mid-lands accent harassed his beloved team with a string of insults, from calling players “muppets” to “bastards” to “fockin’ eejits.”
Things that we saw that were not televised: Upon arrival, we saw a string of nattily dressed guards in black marching up a stairwell. At the half-time, a group of guards with green pinafores came to our section and removed racist banners that had been draped over the rail. The guards for the field had three levels, so far as I can tell: light yellow-green pinafores were the young and yawning guards, darker green pinafores were more beefy, older, more serious guards. Guards in orange pinafores were in charge of the others. In front of our section, in the second half, there was a light-green guard sat every 3 feet. In front of the more passionate Sweden sector (in the Northeast corner) were light green and dark-green guards every 1.5 feet. In front of the more passionate England fans in the Southeast, throughout the second half, the number of guards became uncountable. Dark-green and orange guards stood shoulder to shoulder against the railing. They picked up England fans who had jumped over the rail during their second goal and seemed to multiply. After England’s 3rd goal, a fan jumped the railing and the guards and began running on the track toward the pitch. An orange guard took the man down, with an arm around his throat and was joined by 4 other guards who then threw him into the crowd. During this time, more England fans jumped over the rail and were instantly…inspired…. To climb back to their seats.
After the England win, we stayed through “We Will Rock You” and half of “3 Lions” and then began to make our exit. As we left, the nattily dressed guards were back, marching over catwalks toward the stadium and down the stairs, herding fans out. The most upsetting guard situation was something that would appear banal: The OMON. The Omron stood in a straight line with weapons and helmets, not moving. Other guards we would later see, (blocking some metro entrances and lining others) included men and women, some who were smiling, and giving directions. The Omon need only stand there to scare me. These are the same soldiers whose actions in Chechneya give one nightmares. These are the soldiers that we saw in Petersberg on a lovely city ramble, who were in a courtyard behind a police building beating dummies with sticks and cheering wildly. Their blue camouflage gives me the shivers and I was glad to be leaving them behind. Our trip home was far less sardine-like than I imagined and our walk home from the metro was long and peaceful. People sat on benches in front of their buildings and chatted and smoked. The craggy, potholed sidewalks made me glad that all that vodka at dinner was through my system. We stopped at the 24 hour “magazin” near our place to pick up a toothbrush for Steff and some Kefir for the morning and headed to our apartment. I took a cold shower. I stupidly (or sleepily? – we had been up since 5am and it was now 1:30 am) hadn’t thought to move the faucet’s handle to the blue stripe when no hot water greeted the red stripe.
This morning we slept in. I was up at 10 and did some work and the men slept on until 11:30. At noon, Larissa (the other half of our incredible hosting team) had told us to call around breakfast time and called us herself to ask if we planned to sleep all day. We went down to meet her and she’d prepared an amazing breakfast for us. She took us to the market and then we went out to the farmer’s stalls to get fruit and veg and milk products (we’d bought something like 5 sacks of frozen Pelmeni dumplings in the supermarket) I waited in line for fruit and veg while Steff guarded the groceries and Ivo and Larissa went into the dairy trailer. The line was faster than expected and suddenly I was confronted with the prospect of ordering my own produce. I held up two fingers and a thumb and said “drei corgette? Gurke?” The young lady chuckled and grabbed three cucumbers. “Ist das alles?”, she asked in German. I was relieved and embarrassed and continued my order until Ivo came and began saying numbers of kilos for the fruit that we needed. I’m unsure what it would have come to if I’d needed to understand how many Grivna I owed.Ivo just called the airline (at my insistence) to inquire about Steff’s luggage. A recording told him to pusk “1” for Ukrainian and “2” for English. Ivo speaks Russian, not Ukrainian, so he pushed “2” an was promptly hung up on. He called again an pushed the “1” key and was able to ascertain that the bag was in the airport and would be delivered in the next 48 hours. So that’s good.