Ukraine’s Ambassador, Mr Volodymyr Khandogiy, celebrates the cultural and infrastructural legacy of Euro 2012, discusses Ukraine’s European integration and asserts the UK’s importance to his country’s economy
As you can’t stop the river, which breaks the ice in spring, vigorously rushing to the sea, so you can’t stop the nation which breaks its chains, waking up to life.
Mykola Mikhnovsky (Ukrainian Statesman and Politician, Ideologist of State Independence of Ukraine, 1873-1924)
On 24 August, Ukraine celebrated its 21st anniversary of independence. Each year on this day, Ukrainians feel particular pride for their nation, which has experienced considerable turbulence and major changes. Since independence, the country has gradually but purposefully implemented a strategic course towards integration into European political, economic, security and cultural space.
During its whirlpool history, Ukraine never lost sight of its European guiding star. Today, the vast majority of Ukrainians believe that without European integration, their national identity is like a tree without roots. For centuries, Ukraine belonged to European democratic traditions, and gradually European democratic culture and ideologies have been crystallising into the Ukrainian national consciousness.
Throughout its history, Ukraine proclaimed its independence several times, most notably in 1918, and finally − before the collapse of the Soviet Union − in 1991. Indeed, the independence of Ukraine, and the support of this decision by the national referendum of December 1991, is widely thought to have brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, this anniversary is not only an occasion for us to celebrate but an opportunity for stocktaking and self-assessment. I deliberately used the official Euro 2012 slogan in the headline of this article because our successful hosting of the European Football Championship with Poland last June was one of the greatest events in Ukraine’s modern history. UEFA President Michel Platini called it ‘a real triumph.’
When we first started preparatory works for Euro 2012 there was a great deal of criticism in the European media. Some British media groundlessly accused Ukraine and Poland of racism and anti-Semitism. But despite the scaremongering, the Championship successfully kicked off, and a huge number of football fans came from all over Europe. Guests ascertained that those charges were untrue and had nothing to do with reality and noticing in fact that Ukraine is a modern European state, with welcoming, friendly and hard-working European people.
In particular, I enjoyed the conduct of England football fans in Donetsk. They protested against former England captain Sol Campbell’s warning not to travel to Ukraine, shouting ‘you’re wrong Campbell, we’ll do what we want.’ Kyiv’s citizens were touched when grateful Swedish fans strolled around the city’s streets displaying a huge banner saying ‘THANK U KIEV’. (Before EURO 2012 began, former England captain, Sol Campbell, told BBC’s Panorama that English supporters should avoid travelling to Ukraine because they ‘could end up coming back in a coffin.’) By the end of Euro 2012, positivity and optimism dominated the European media.
During the championship, 1.8 million foreign guests visited our country. According to UEFA, crowds totalling over five million enjoyed the action in fan zones across the eight host cities. The largest single attendance was 64,640 at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv for the match between Sweden and England. Preliminary estimates suggest that Euro 2012 brought around US$1 billion to Ukraine.
Preparing Ukraine for Euro 2012 served as a powerful impetus for large-scale reconstruction of infrastructure, rail and air transport. In preparation for the Championship, Ukraine built five new international airports and four runways. On the day of the final, Kyiv-Boryspil International Airport coped with 45,000 passengers, 630 regular flights and 450 charters. Motorways were also upgraded with around 2,000km of roads built and reconstructed between 2011-12. The tournament has left Ukraine with an outstanding heritage. Some experts believe that Euro 2012 was the beginning of Ukraine’s ‘infrastructural revolution’.
This ambitious project has opened Ukraine to the world, united people and created a new page in the history of our young state. Opinion polls carried out during the tournament revealed that for 57.25 per cent of guests, the championship improved their perception of Ukraine. 55.82 per cent felt sympathy for the country, 42.56 per cent believed that Ukraine deserves EU membership soon, and 30.92 per cent believed that Ukraine should join the EU in the medium term subject to an improved political and economic situation. Only 2.77 per cent said they didn’t want Ukraine to join the EU. (The ‘First Euro 2012 Exit Poll’ was conducted by GFK for the Ukrainian Institute of World Politics in July 2012.)
Meanwhile, the successful hosting of Euro 2012 is not Ukraine’s only recent achievement of ‘practical’ European integration. The government has signed Amendments to the Agreement with the EU expanding visa facilitation for members of non-governmental organisations, trade unions, religious organisations and journalists. This document also extends a visa-free regime to holders of biometric service passports. We consider this Agreement to be a milestone event on the path to visa liberalisation between Ukraine and the EU.
Ukraine has also come very close to signing an Association Agreement with the EU on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This strategic document will shape our relations with the EU for years to come. Creating a DCFTA offers significant opportunities for both sides, which is especially important for economic growth, overcoming the financial crisis in Europe and further developing a free market.
In this regard we are grateful to our true friends and reliable partners for their valuable assistance. The UK is one of the most consistent supporters of Ukraine’s European integration, and both countries agree that potential EU membership can serve as a real driving force for internal reforms in an aspirant country.
The UK is one of Ukraine’s leading economic partners. The UK ranks sixth in terms of volume of investment in Ukraine’s economy and totals 5.1 per cent of total foreign investment. Last year the volume of British capital to Ukraine’s economy grew, and by January 2012 amounted to a figure of US$ 2.5 billion. The UK also steadily ranks in the top ten partners of Ukraine in terms of bilateral trade. In 2011, the bilateral trade turnover in goods and services increased by 19 per cent to almost US$3 billion.
Inevitably, Ukraine continues passing domestic economic reforms aimed at improving the investment climate and the protection of foreign capital. We are paying particular attention to reform of the judicial system. The first step was the approval of a new Criminal Procedural Code. This reform is being realised in close cooperation with experts from the Council of Europe and the EU.
In conclusion, I’d like to underline the point that regardless of our obvious achievements, Ukrainians remain aware of the hard work ahead and look forward to these challenges with optimism. Indeed, the words of a great British politician may stand as our dictum as we look to our future: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’