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Travels with my football shirts: Ukraine

Ukraine National Team

Every shirt is a travelogue waiting to be written...

In this strange time of self-isolation, lockdowns, football postponements and being unable to travel for the foreseeable future due to the worldwide impact of the Coronavirus, I thought that I would share some of my travel stories using my extensive football shirt collection over the next few weeks. Up next, a visit to Kiev and a look into why Ukraine is one of the most fascinating places that I have ever been to...

Featured Shirt: Ukraine (2011/13 season)

Back in November 2018, a year after cancelling their original Ukrainian flight programme, Ryanair relaunched their flights to Kiev and Lviv from Manchester. For the bargain price of just £30 return to Kyiv (Kiev), this was a great flight deal that I could not resist and would be my first time in Ukraine. Simon, my good friend and colleague decided to come along and we planned an itinerary that only turned into a football weekender at the last minute.

We travelled in May 2019 and watched Dynamo Kyiv vs. Zorya Luhansk at the Olympic Stadium in a Ukrainian Premier League Play-Off match, but on reflection, this trip was about more than football and gave us a fascinating insight into a country that is undergoing real change

Running in the Kiev 12K

I'll be honest before I go any further. I was nervous about visiting Ukraine and Kyiv. I did not know what to expect and as no stranger to post-Soviet era countries having visited Poland, Latvia and Slovakia in the past, I am aware that quaint old towns often contrast with the vast, grey high rise housing estates that surround the periphery.

The Maidan protests and Orange Revolution put Ukraine firmly in the eyes of the world's media for a period. Negative stories in the media compound a certain stereotype about the country and limited tourist information makes pre-trip research particularly hard to do.

It's also important to consider that the country is still technically at war with pro-Russian separatists around the coal-rich Donbas region in the east. Life in Kyiv is conflict-free and located hundreds of miles from the war zone in the east, yet some reminders often appear on the city’s streets.

Both Simon and I also debated visiting the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power station exclusion zone and the adjacent abandoned city of Pripyat, but after careful consideration, we decided against the excursion and put our energies into running the 12K distance in the European Union-funded 'Kyiv Euro Marathon' running festival instead and of course, watching football.

We flew on Friday morning on one of the first flights out of Manchester Airport and every seat was occupied for the 3-hour flight. There was the usual mix of 'lads on tour', Ukrainians drawn from Manchester's large ex-pat community and bargain hunting flight enthusiasts playing the Ryanair destination lottery-like ourselves.

We had no local currency as Ukrainian money is hard to source in the UK and took euros to change at the airport. A large wad of Hryvnia (UAH) notes changed hands for the equivalent of £100. Kyiv Boryspil Airport is located about 45 minutes from the city centre and we passed some of the vast communist-era housing estates before crossing the River Dnipro on our coach transfer. The now-ubiquitous neon logo of the Chinese telecoms company Huawei greeted our arrival into the city centre.

We decided to stay at the Hotel Ibis next to the railway station for ease and convenience. We did look at staying at the brutalist Hotel Salute for a more authentic post-Soviet experience, but sometimes it's best to stick to what you know, especially in unfamiliar territory.

Hotel Salute

Priced at £160 for 3 nights, the hotel was expensive when compared to the relative cost of Ukrainian day-to-day living, however, the proximity to the metro station and the Marshrutka minibus terminal negated the cost. Upon arrival, we had two immediate aims. Pick up our race numbers for the 12k run from the nearby cinema and buy two tickets for the Dynamo match on Saturday afternoon.