The biggest thing to ever happen in Ukraine during my two years here took place in June‒Eurocup 2012! This huge European soccer tournament was jointly hosted by Ukraine and Poland, and was a huge source of national pride for Ukrainians. Most Ukrainians are crazy about soccer, so the whole month of June the nation was overcome with Eurocup fever. Every game was broadcast to packed cafes and beer tents, and daily conversation revolved around the results of the matches.
Ukrainians were also incredibly interested in the tourism generated by the Eurocup and the chance of profiting from it. Hotel rooms in Kyiv were shamelessly up-charged‒not even a bed in a hostel could be found for under 30 euros. And it wasn’t just Kyiv that prepared for the huge boost in tourism; the Eurocup matches were hosted in Kharkiv and L’viv as well (two major cities in Ukraine), and cities and towns everywhere hoped the tourists would come to visit.
My tiny town of Sokyriany, which is close to nothing (except the border to Moldova) even attempted to teach the local policemen English in case tourists came and either needed help or ran into trouble with the law. Somehow the local police got my number and began calling daily and begging me to come teach them English. I was skeptical of the proposition, because a) two weeks isn’t enough to learn English; b) no tourists would be coming to Sokyriany, and c) the other Peace Corps Volunteer who used to live in Sokyriany had a huge thing for cops in our town, and had developed kind of a reputation. I didn’t want to “help” the cops learn English if they thought that I was going to behave in the same way as the last PCV….
So I was explaining the dilemma to my Ukrainian friend/mother figure Olha, and she was adamant that I stay away from the militzia. She insisted the cops would be inappropriate, especially given the rumors the other PCV generated by her behavior, and instead told the cops if they wanted to learn English they could ask either of her sons. Her sons, Slavic and Petro, speak English really well, but I doubt either of them were interested in attempting to teach our local cops… I thought the whole situation was hilarious, and told Slavic that his mother must love me more if she was willing to throw them under the bus and offer their English skills instead of mine ; )
Eurocup madness also affected the young population of Ukraine. I agreed to take on a new student for tutoring over the summer, who had recently come home from university. His name was Vadim, and he was studying for his masters in Engineering in Chernivtsi. His mother really wanted him to learn English so he can attempt to get a job abroad when he finishes his degree, and I agreed to give him lessons whenever I was in town. My first meeting with Vadim was a challenge, because while he was very smart and knew some English, he was also incredibly shy. But as our lessons continued, he improved, and the Eurocup matches became our example for every grammar principle we covered. For example, the day we reviewed the present continuous verb tense, I’d say, “Who is playing in the next Eurocup match?” And he’d have to answer “England is playing Ukraine.” I’d ask, “Who is going to win?” and he’d answer “In my opinion, Ukraine is going to win.” It was hilarious, and became a running joke between us. Any time I introduced a new grammar principle, he’d demand a soccer example for illustration.
Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not exactly an avid sports fan; but even I was susceptible to Eurocup fever, especially when a soccer-loving Brit came to visit. My friend Mark, who visited in April, came back to Ukraine and spent the week with me in Sokyriany. For the England vs. Ukraine match, we went to Sokyriany’s most popular beer tent, where the game was being broadcast on a big screen TV. The tent was already full a 1/2 hour before the game started, so we sat on a bench outside where we had a view of the TV. Mark was brave enough to wear an English jersey into a sea of Ukrainian fans, but I chose to root for Ukraine, which has somehow become my home in the last two years. The game was uneventful, but due to a bad call (which even Mark conceded), England scored one goal, while Ukraine didn’t score at all. So while Mark was pleased with the result of the game, the atmosphere in the beer tent was dejected, because Ukraine’s loss meant we were out of the tournament. : (
Ukraine’s defeat became the new theme for my tutoring lessons with Vadim, which was depressing but also hilarious. For learning the past perfect tense, I asked “What could Ukraine have done to win the game?” and Vadim answered, “Ukraine’s coach could have put Shevchenko [Ukraine’s best player] in the game sooner!” Oh Eurocup!
To hear what else happened in Sokyriany while Mark visited, read onto the next blog post : )