What better way is there to enjoy the first Ukrainian El Clasico of the season than to experience it live in the flesh from the Olympiyskyi stadium in Kyiv!
Eagerly awaiting the fixtures to be released a few weeks ago, I decided that I would try to make the capital based leg of Dynamo v Shakhtar whenever that may be! Fortunately enough, the date of the game happened to fall on an early August weekend, so T-shirt weather was more or less guaranteed!
This trip would be another solo endeavour as the majority of people I know don’t have the opportunities with work & personal lives to be as spontaneous! It all started nice and early, as per usual with flights to Ukraine on Wizz Air! As such it was ‘Luton calling!’ on four hours sleep!
I had a quick spot of breakfast, took the usual sticker, passport and beverage photo and was on my way to Kyiv Zhulyany! The first thing you have to do when you land is obviously buy yourself a SIM card. Unlimited data (for a month I think) is about £7. Instagram stories and twitter updates don’t make themselves!
Uber is the way to go in this city especially if you already use it back in your own country. It’s a well known fact that you should never accept a ride from the cabbies outside!
Zhulyany is fortunately located on the right side of Kyiv and is the smaller of the capital’s two international airports. As a result, it was a mere 20-25 minute journey to the hotel, on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard and that’s including the notorious traffic in town.
There was really no time to waste, dumped my bags off at the Hotel Express, more on that later, and headed straight to the Valery Lobanovskyi stadium to pick up my media accreditation within the hour slot announced by the club. On the way to the pick up spot I had a quick gander at the Dynamo trophy cabinet, which included the recently won Super Cup!
With the accreditation sorted, it was now time to get a bit of sightseeing in before meeting up with a few family friends in the evening! Having already been to Kyiv before, it was first time to visit a recently new landmark. A short walk away from the Lobanovskyi is the Friendship Arch. It’s a shame that the crack that has been added to it, is only artistic and that the soviet propaganda monument is still standing over the banks of the Dnipro. However, that’s not what I was there for.
I had come to pay a visit to the newly installed Kyiv Pederstrian Bridge, linking that monument to St Volodymyr’s Hill! The views of the Dnipro, and the unfinished bridge in the distance were magnificent, amplified by the stunning weather. The glass viewing platforms were fortunately cordoned off and I have to admit, I wouldn’t stand on them if you paid me too.
Onwards to the St Volodymyr monument, here more photos were taken, featuring my sticker that mirrored the view. It was ridiculously hot at this stage and I have to admit, Ukrainian humidity at times does get quite unbearable. Sweat was certainly occuring. Next up it was down to Maidan for a bit of respite from the sun.
Globus, the underground shopping centre, played host to my first meal. Where else to start my Ukrainian culinary journey than McDonalds! The special Rye burger was obviously chosen to be taste tested and overall was quite pleasant. A rye bun, filled with a mushroom sauce, secret gherkins and two pork burger patties did the trick. However it was quite messy, so maybe not one to eat on the go!
A bit of browsing in the shops followed, with nothing too interesting to note or buy. Popped back up to the surface to take some pics of Maidan before the dark clouds rolled in! Ukrainian weather really can go from one extreme to another, and this storm was something else. The rain and thunder started shelling it down. Even in the underpass, where most people were seeing the storm out, the rain was pelting it down the steps!
At around this period, it was time to go and meet some friends. The first metro experience of the trip was as per usual, very stress free. Contactless and at 3p a single ride, you really can’t go wrong. As I ascended from the Olympiyskyi station, I was greeted with a rainbow. Kyiv doesn’t stop to amaze. Whilst waiting for my host for the evening, I squeezed in a few pics outside the stadium and got a souvenir paper ticket to the big game. For 2 quid, why wouldn’t you. An evening of catching up and dinner ended with a trip out to watch the Liverpool v Norwich game.
First we tried O’Briens but that place has fallen quite flat in recent times and was filled with a much older crowd. Instead we headed to the Golden Gate. Inside, we found out that we had stumbled upon the official Liverpool fan club in Kyiv. It was quite entertaining to hear the Eastern European accents sing the various scouse chants, especially their ‘Number one is Carragher etc’ rendition.
During the game, we got talking to an American former AP journalist who now writes for the Economist and Foreign Policy. It was really enjoyable to chat to him all about his reporting career from East Africa to Ukraine and his keen interest in football. Of course, the blog was introduced to yet another member of the international audience!
The night ended with a walk back to the hotel which included avoiding a mentally ill, alcoholic tramp who was wielding a long wooden plank.
DAY TWO: MATCHDAY ONE
Saturday was match day! The whole reason that this trip was organised was to see this game! After a bit of a lie in, it was down to Khreshchatyk, the Ukrainian Oxford street, to my friend Oleksandr Hlyvynskyy host a Ukrainian Strongman competition, which was taking place on the pedestrianised road outside the Kyiv Administration building. It was nice to catch up with Sashko briefly before he got back to work and to catch a glimpse of a one time World’s strongest man in Vasyl Virastyuk, who was officiating proceedings.
After a good two hours of spectating in midday sun, it was time for some brunch, and where else is easier to go to than Puzata Hata, everyone’s favourite ‘so shit it’s good’ buffet. After ordering way too much as usual and paying just £6 for the bill, it was time to meet up with another friend who was in town for the game and off we went to the Olympiyskyi!
It was already quite busy near the stadium as we searched for a bar that was showing the City v West Ham game. Unfortunately, we had no luck in finding a suitable one and resorted to a quick drink before we headed into the sporting complex. Here we parted ways, as I headed to the media zone.
The pre match press room was largely underwhelming, with just a water machine available for refreshments. Stamford Bridge it isn’t.
But it was still great to meet and catch up with some journalist friends from Tribuna; Iryna, Vlad, Dmytro and Mykyta. I was also really grateful to be provided with the opportunity to provide coverage of the game in English. The press seating area may be all the way up in the heavens but it provided a great vantage point of the action and of the Dynamo Ultras’ Tifo show, which was beach themed!
The game itself was an entertaining spectacle. Dynamo looked quite flat on the ball and were giving away numerous needless passes. Shakhtar looked threatening throughout the first half and were duly rewarded for their pressure when Junior Moraes flicked in a Solomon low cross. However, almost out of nowhere, after a spilled shot from Pyatov, Gerson Rodrigues’ head was first onto the stray rebound, and the forward had his first goal for the club on his full home debut.
During the half time break, it was time to walk round to sector 42 and finally meet Stas aka FreddyKiev on Instagram in person. The Dynamo diehard and I briefly chatted and we exchanged gifts before it was time to head back to the press box.
The second half continued to showcase Shakhtar’s dominance and their consistent threat aided by Dynamo’s lack of attempts at defending allowed Marlos to glide through the Kyiv defence before a deflected effort ended up squeezing into the bottom corner. It was 2-1 to Shakhtar and they gained the early advantage in the title race. However, the takeaways from the performance by Dynamo was that it did not provide too much hope for fans and media alike, ahead of their must win UCL qualifier versus Brugge on Tuesday!
Dynamo ended up drawing 3-3 and losing 4-3 on aggregate in the Tuesday game! It turns out the Saturday fixture was very much an ‘I was there’ moment for Khatskevich’s last UPL game in charge before he was sacked on Wednesday!
After the game it was back down to press area, to hear the post match press conferences. Khatskevich, was as usual, not giving too much useful insight away and just offered his usual assurances that the team will bounce back during the next game. Castro was happy with his sides performance but was concerned with Junior Moraes limping off during the game.
In the mixed zone, I waited with the Tribuna team for the chance to speak to a few of the passing players. None of the Dynamo players were in the mood for interviews and walked straight past the waiting journalists. Matvienko and Solomon gave a few comments to Kanal Futbol but that was all. An unsuccessful night in that respect, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. It all depends on player moods. Conversation continued for a while as everyone collectively left the Olympiyskyi. The conclusion was that signs weren’t too optimistic for Tuesday.
The night ended relatively late, as a few drinks and chat wrapped the night up in Gorky bar before a late night walk through Taras Shevchenko park back to the hotel.
Sunday began similarly to Saturday. A lie in was had as was a cold shower; because the Soviet feeling hotel was aiming to give me that authentic experience. The day’s excursion started with a short walk up to the golden domed churches in St Sophia and St Michael’s squares before a spot of a very unique lunch was experienced in Spotykach – The home of the new Kyiv regime.
Borscht ice lolly, anyone? Well I decided to brave it. I have to say it tastes exactly as you would expect. The frozen sour cream at the tip of lolly was slightly excessive and Borscht cold just isn’t for me. Next course was some Holubtsi sushi. This one actually made sense. Holubtsi are a Ukrainian dish featuring rice or buckwheat wrapped in vine leaves or cabbage and sometimes with a meaty filling. This one came with chopsticks and tasted quite nice.
Then it was time for the main course. Blue and yellow varenyky (dumplings) arrived and the blue ones with a more salty cheese and dill filling tasted great. The yellow featuring just potato were a lot more doughy and bland. It was a real shame that there were no fried onions either.
A less exotic passionfruit mousse type thing was had for dessert to complete the meal and the £20 bill (quite pricey for Kyiv) was largely deserving of the cost. 10/10 for the concept. 7/10 for overall food satisfaction.
Bill paid, I was off to Maidan station and on the blue line towards the northern end of the line – Heroyiv Dnipra (Heroes of the Dnipro). Like most end of the line stations in Kyiv, this was located in a largely residential area, surrounded by the usual soviet style apartment blocks, whilst the station was housed under a newly built shopping centre.
I embarked on the 15 minute walk to the stadium passing through a market; no fake rolexes to be seen, before seeing the stadium in the distance.
It was hot once again. It was about an hour and a half before kick off and bus loads of Kovalivka fans were already showing up outside the stadium gates. The 1,500 population Kyiv oblast village was continuing to shock! I shortly met up with the Kolos press Attache to pick up my accreditation before heading into the empty main stand, half an hour before the fans were let in.
I was surprised to see how seriously Kolos took to their marketing. All the stewards were wearing new Kovalivka branded, high vis vests and all the billboards were showing their appropriate sponsors.
As I took to my seat right at the back of the main stand with the other journalists and media, good friend, Tribuna’s Andriy Senkiv, arrived. He was shocked at the amount of people that Kolos had amassed at the stadium and the fact that the majority of them were supporting the village side.
He would later find out that Kolos not only bussed in people for free, both from Kovalivka and nearby areas (workers at the club owners agricultural plants) but also got their tickets for free on top. It seems that Kolos are quite proud of this fact as they ended up sharing the ‘expose’ on their social media. They should be commended for putting in so much effort even into the tiniest of the details.
The Obolon Arena, is quite nice as far as stadiums go. Clean enough toilets (bar the squat ones) – markedly better than the Olympiyskyi’s leaking and paperless offerings.
Whilst in the press seating, Dynamo keeper Denys Boyko turned up with suspended Dynamo loanee, Yevhen Smirnyi. He was swarmed by groups of children asking for selfies up until Kick off and at half time.
Before the game started, it was time to give Kvass (a coke like fizzy drink made out of bread) a try after a number of years. It tasted surprisingly nice compared to how I remembered it!
The match began in the early evening Kyiv sun and it was an end to end game to begin with. Kolos were taking it to Zorya and a number of counter attacking chances were scuppered at the final ball. Zorya then went on a break of their own and were awarded a free kick from around 30 yards out. Bohdan Lednev stepped up and smashed in an out-swinger that made it 1-0.
Kolos were not down and out just yet and equalised shortly after thanks to a nice cutback allowing Kostyshyn to get his first ever UPL goal. Then came the killer blows.
Right on he stroke of half time, the ball was switched over to Kamenyuka on the right who headed it across the line for an easy tap in and a debut goal for Nazariy Rusyn.
The second half started very much as the first ended. Rusyn began a run from around 40 yards out, charging in from the right. Using his strength and speed he was able to get to the byline and roll it across the six yard box for the onrushing Kabaev to convert. That goal killed the game and Zorya ended up 3-1 winners on the night.
Press conferences followed before it was time to go for a quick beer with Senkiv and Boris. Interesting conversations later, it was time to get on the metro back to the centre.
I don’t know what it is about Ukrainians and Sundays but Khreshchatyk was as busy as ever in the twilight. I popped into TSUM – the Selfridges equivalent to see what Dynamo merch, the New Balance store had on offer. Everything was largely overpriced, as to be expected. However, not even Nike or adidas would charge £95 for a windcheater! With my Dynamo training top in tow (a £40 setback), it was time to go back to the hotel for a relatively early night before the flight back to London the next day.
Check out came early. One last cold shower ended my stay at the three star Hotel Express on Taras Shevchenko Boulevard. An Uber back to Zhulyany was quick and simple, take me here and back over Boryspil any day of the week! Duty free was quite disappointing, a lot less Nemiroff flavours than Lviv’s Danylo Halytskyi but the airport food was top notch. No McDonald’s around but would highly recommend people try Varenyk Fly after passport control. The varenyky there were the best I had all weekend!
Until next time Kyiv! See you even more briefly in September!