May 25, 2012

Letter from: Kharkiv, where Ukraine’s EU bid comes to die

For the Soviet-era strongmen of the post-Soviet sphere, politics remains a zero-sum game, writes Matthew Clayfield, a freelance correspondent in Ukraine.

One descends the steps of Kharkiv’s train station to a Soviet-era square with post-Soviet pretensions. Ukraine’s azure-and-yellow is teaming with Poland’s red-and-white next month, in what was originally seen as a boon to the former’s EU prospects, to co-host the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship. A floral arrangement in the centre of the square depicts a ball flying through the air with a trail of flowers streaming out behind it. Svelte mannequins in flag-coloured tracksuits adorn the windows of sportswear shops along Sumska and Pushkinskaya streets.

On Prospekt Gagarina, named for the world’s first cosmonaut and not far from our hotel, the concrete skeleton of a long-stalled commercial development sits languishing. The spherical trade and exhibition centre was supposed to be finished in 2009, but the city took over tournament hosting duties from Dnipropetrovsk that same year, the site’s developer, the Kharkiv Project Institute, shifted its attention to stadium upgrades and new hotels, and the thing has been sitting open to the elements opposite the city’s central bus station ever since. Luckily, it’s shaped like a soccer ball in a half-cube, open-window display box, and doesn’t seem entirely out of place.

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