For the football championships, Ukraine is relying on shiny new trains and infrastructure to appeal to fans. But how safe will the event be?
The unlikely host is finally prepared: ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship, Ukraine put infrastructure development at the top of its agenda. Airports and train stations were renovated, modern stadiums were built, railway tracks were repaired and old asphalt highway surfaces renewed. But have authorities done enough to guarantee that guests from all over the world will be safe at the event?
Some experts say one of the biggest problems could be Ukraine's own police. "The Ukrainian security forces pose a real threat to the fans at Euro 2012," says Max Tucker, an Amnesty International representative who traveled to Ukraine. "The Ukrainian authorities have talked a lot about police training, but let's take a look at recent incidents. Police officers attacked football fans, beat them and intimidated them with electric shocks. We saw this in the last few weeks."
Police and thieves
Tucker says that Amnesty has documented "numerous examples" of illegal acts by Ukrainian police, where locals and foreigners were pressured or even beaten to extort money. He believes the soccer event is a "huge temptation" for police and customs officials to take advantage of foreigners.
At the same time, the Ukrainian government and its Euro 2012 organizing committee are attempting to reassure the European public. They say they are prepared for all possible dangers, claiming that 7,000 police officers will monitor security in the host cities.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry and National Security Council is responsible for coordinating steps. At the council's most recent meeting, President Viktor Yanukovych was on hand to order his ministers to create a safe climate in the country, while Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov promised that the experiences of Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had been analyzed in detail.
Bombs before kick off
But the country could easily be overwhelmed. On April 27, just six weeks before the tournament kicks off, bombs were detonated in eastern Ukraine, and many people were injured. The series of explosions in trash cans in the center of the town of Dnipropetrovsk worried the Ukrainian and the western European public alike.
Despite all the authorities' efforts, the bombers and their motives remain unknown. Was it part of a clash in the country's organized crime scene, or a deliberate act of terrorism?
Fear of Ukrainian hooligans
There are other threats. British media reports suggest football players of African or Asian descent are afraid of racist attacks by violent hooligans in Ukraine, and some black English players have already declared that their families would be following the Championship from home. The British government has even issued a warning that fans of Afro-Caribbean or Asian descent should be especially careful in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has dismissed such warnings. Racism researcher Mridula Ghosh, who lives in Ukraine, does not share the concerns. "Both in Ukraine and Poland there are a few racist groups who try to stir up sentiment among the population against dark-skinned players and fans," she said. "But in reality, these groups are not numerous. The police will have them under control."
Bribery is said to be customary among the Ukrainian police
Always carry ID
The first problem for football fans could be at the border. People who have driven into Ukraine know that crossing the border usually involves long waits. The time can occasionally be shortened if the border police officer is slipped a bribe, usually of 10 to 50 euros ($12 - $62). Otherwise, the waiting time can be up to twelve hours with no obvious reason. Some German journalists recently learned this the hard way and reported on it.
There could also be language difficulties with Ukrainian security officials. Few Ukrainian policemen can speak English, despite the language courses for thousands of public servants organized ahead of the championships. On top of this, Ukrainian policemen are not generally known for their charm.
Tucker has some additional advice: "We recommend all foreign fans to always have their passports on them, in case they are suddenly arrested. It is customary to demand bribes from foreigners. And they should also have the phone numbers of their embassies with them, because they cannot rely on the Ukrainian justice system if they get in trouble."
Author: Zakhar Butyrskyi / sgb
Editor: Ben Knight