24 HOURS IN LVIV
This business and sport infused whistle stop trip to Western Ukraine began on Friday morning. A refreshing 3:30am wake up for the 4:15am taxi to Heathrow Terminal 2 was how it started. Heathrow departures was almost derelict at this time of the morning, security took no time at all. After a quick coffee and cheese toastie, it was time to board the first flight of the day. The initial leg was flying me out to Warsaw before the connection to Lviv. I had two Ukrainians sat next to me on the Poland bound flight, but I didn’t have enough energy to chat and subsequently napped for the duration of the journey.
Arriving in the Polish capital, an almost 3 hour stop over ensued before the short 45 minute transfer to Lviv. The non Schengen Zone part of Warsaw airport has literally nothing to do and very mediocre food spots. My fried egg and toast was nothing special and this meal set the precedent for the food that I would end up eating for the rest of my time away. Landing at the eerily quiet Danylo Halytskiy International Airport just after 3pm local time, it was time to buy a SIM card. A couple of days previously I’d paid one of those over the air unlocking websites, a decent amount of money, to do it and they estimated it would have been done by the day of the trip. Guess what? It still wasn’t.
|IT ARENA @ ARENA LVIV|
So after purchasing an EE add on of 15MB for a £5, it was time to order an Uber to take me to IT Arena, an IT & Tech event being held at Arena Lviv. There was no time to waste trying to haggle with rip off taxi drivers. A £3 equivalent journey later, I had arrived at the conference with a couple of hours to soak in the end of the day’s proceedings. I walked around the business fair, spoke to a few people and sat in on a few speeches. However it was obvious that everything was winding down and that tomorrow would be the day to network and make the most of!
With that in mind, I knew that Karpaty Lviv were up against Shakhtar Donetsk that evening, at the not too far away Ukraina Stadium. A quick email to some contacts at Karpaty ensured that I’d be allowed to receive some press accreditation. Another Uber, now surcharged to £8 ensured I got to the stadium around an hour before kick off and was able to pick up my press pass. I went up to the Press area just behind the VIP seats, soaked in some of the warm up and then had a walk around the fringes of the old stadium. Just as the warm ups were coming to an end it was time to head back to the tunnel to see all the players walking back to their dressing rooms, handing out high fives to the star stuck mascots, who were eagerly waiting for them.
Kick off approached and as the players re-emerged and headed for the pitch, it was time to hear back up to the press and VIP area. Serhiy Bolbat, who was not involved followed alongside Shakhtar’s Analyst Coach, Thiago Leal who I noticed were both communicating with each other in English. After the anthems were sung, I took a seat in the ‘free for all’ that is the VIP area, as long as you have the right access you can choose where you’d like to sit on a first come first served basis. As I did so, the Karpaty Ultras had already begun their pyro show and flag waving. There was only around 500 of them but they were by far the most vocal part of the stadium.
|Stadion Ukraina under the lights|
I was sitting next to a WAG of presumably a Karpaty player, as she let out a sigh in reaction to Rakitskiy’s early free kick that went into the top corner. It was just over 10 minutes played and Karpaty already had a mountain to climb. It only got worse for them as the half dragged on, Karpaty were caught sleeping and Ismaily was played through and had the easy task of passing it on a plate to the onrushing Fernando for a tap in. More goals followed in quick succession as Moraes pounced, then Marlos got his double. It all of sudden got quite chilly, and my pullover kagool was not doing much to keep me warm.
People were leaving out the turnstiles at half time in their masses. I did initially think this was due to the score line but then realised many were coming back. They had either gone for a quick piss, picked up something from their car or to a nearby shop. I was really hungry at this point, I hadn’t eaten since Warsaw as the whole afternoon had been rather hectic. So £1.50 later, I was tucking into some sort of packaged cheese and salami ‘butterbrot’ that was slightly warm. Once again it was heavily mediocre but I was so hungry I didn’t care. Sunflower seeds at the football really is the equivalent of popcorn at the cinema in Ukraine. Almost everyone was eating them with supreme deshelling and spitting expertise.
As the second half began, I decided to spend it in the actual Press area standing up. It was quite empty, bar a few journalists, the Shakhtar and Karpaty cameramen filming for training sessions, and some commentators. Luckily there was an abundance of plug sockets so my phone was charging up nicely as I proceeded to make updates of the game via the Zorya Londonsk Twitter feed and through Instagram stories. However, as is usually the case in football matches, ‘it was a game of two halves.’ With one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Lyon, Shakhtar slowed down the pace of the game and made some substitutions.
It was only once Mykola Matvienko found himself in loads of space to latch onto a delightfully lofted through ball that the half saw its first real action. He touched it down calmly and finished with a low shot. Despite the score line, the Karpaty Ultras were buoyant, the shirts had long come off, the jumping was constant and countless flares, flash bangs and fireworks had been set off to add to an electric atmosphere coming from their sector of the stadium. As the game approached its final five minutes, I followed the other journalists back to the mixed zone and tunnel in anticipation of the returning players. Whilst waiting there, we got a great view of Marian Shved’s consolation goal. It was a beautiful curling effort that ended up in the top corner and more than deserved for his spirited performance.
As the game ended, the players walked up the tunnel, greeted with many of the mascots from earlier, eager to get their hand drawn pictures signed or a player’s match worn shirt. I left them the kids to it as I attended the post match press conferences. Not much was said that was of much value with neither team getting any real gage of their own abilities after such a one sided game. As that wrapped up, the players were now leaving for the bus. Marlos and Pyatov were kind enough to take a selfie, before being mobbed by Lviv schoolchildren waiting outside. As I emerged out of the main entrance, I introduced myself to a few Ukrainian sports journalists, Iryna and Maks from FootballHub and 2+2, explaining how I had come from London and spoke a bit about this football blog that you’re currently reading. Hopefully we will get to meet again in Manchester next month.
The early start to the day was starting to take its toll. Whilst it was only 8pm back in the U.K. I didn’t have the energy to go into town so grabbed an Uber to the hotel for a very late check in. The hotel I had chosen was on the outskirts of town as it was quite close to Arena Lviv. Hotel Patriarshyi is situated within the grounds of a seminary. The hotel itself has a 9/10 rating on Booking.com and at £22 for the night you can’t go wrong. It was extremely quiet so there’s no risk of being woken up in the middle of the night! However, this hotel certainly isn’t for the average tourist as it’s just too far away from the city centre.
I had agreed to book in breakfast for 8:30am the next day. It was only £2 but I was still left largely disappointed. The omelette was rather oily and the sausage was a bit too garlicky for that time of the morning but that’s just Ukrainian breakfasts for you! After this it was time to book another Uber to the conference for a productive day of networking.
|Roman Staretskyi from Invest in Lviv (R)|
Every person I met was in disbelief at my ability to speak Ukrainian and the fact that I had come from London to go to the event. After handing out a large amount of business cards to a variety of interesting and important people, having sat in on a few tech speeches and had some rather delicious Pad Thai (breaking the under par food trend) it was time to head to the airport again.
Nevertheless I made a stop at a supermarket first. However to my disappointment there weren’t many unique sweets, snacks or drinks on offer. I picked up some weird chewing gums and walked 20 minutes to the airport. Here I got through security even quicker than I had done in Heathrow, and explored Duty Free.
€3 on a litre of some good standard Ukrainian Vodka was spent before I embarked on my flight back to Warsaw. Little did I know that I had been put in business class! The leg room was great! Then I got talking to the Swedish man next to me. After a while of a chatting over a rather disgusting in flight (but free) meal, he told me how he lived in London some ten years ago with his Ukrainian girlfriend. He had visited the Ukrainian Club in Holland Park countless times and had even lived in the UCU building near the statue of St Volodymyr! What a small world!
I left my new over 60 year old Swedish friend as he was going back to Stockholm and I headed to Polish McDonald’s to see what unique menu items they had on offer. All I can say is that McDonald’s wings and their jalapeño burger aren’t worth getting!
Business class on the flight back to London meant a free New York Times! This kept me entertained for duration of the journey home, but what I can say is that Broadsheet newspapers aren’t the most convenient things to read on planes. I had made a mistake with the main course meal on this longer flight. I opted for the Chicken dish over the Salmon one and was rewarded with some pink in the middle chicken! I wasn’t hungry enough to complain so just ate the rest that was on offer, such as a delicious ‘exotic dessert’.
If you’re ever flying back to Heathrow at night, you get to see stunning Birdseye views of the capital city. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the plane to see the likes of the London eye, Wembley Stadium etc. I had to make do with the O2 Arena and the London Stadium. Oh well! I arrived back at around 10pm and that brought my hectic 24 hour trip to an end! Fun but exhausting stuff!