“Di . . . Na . . . Mo! Di . . . Na . . . Mo!”
The hard core contingent of Dinamo Kiev fans are making themselves heard with the aid of a drum while a lone Sevastopol fan five rows behind me responds with all he has. I wonder for how long his voice will last, as it disappears into the cavernous confines of the NSC Olympiysky Stadium in Kiev. The Dinamo fans around me just shrug it off and laugh, craning their necks to see where the brave man is sitting. It is a relaxed atmosphere though, and no one is out looking for a fight tonight as Dinamo lead 1-0 heading into halftime. The NSC Olympiysky—the brand new incarnation of the Republican Stadium built for the Euro 2012 football tournament—looks beautiful in the sunset light as I take it all in, as beautiful as the girls strolling down Khreshchatyk in high-heels and miniskirts.
One could be forgiven for thinking that they are anywhere but Ukraine at this moment. The pitch is pristine and the concourses are brand new. The Obolon beer in my hands was bought using a pre-paid card, expediting the processes at all concession stands and eliminating the chance for loose change to make it onto the pitch (a major problem at matches in Turkey). The only thing betraying my location are the stands—yellow on the lower level and blue on the top level, the Ukrainian flag. That, and the beautiful girls two rows up that could be Vogue models. No, I’m squarely in Ukraine.
Of course, I already knew that from the walk to the stadium and the tents of protesters supporting ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that had been set up along Kreshchatyk street. I also knew it from the old man in the Dinamo store who, upon hearing of my football shirt collection, took me into a back room and threw match worn shirts of various Ukrainian teams onto a table like Gatsby while telling me that only cash would be accepted. And I knew it from the time spent at Dinamo’s old stadium, named after famous head coach Valeri Lobanovskyi. It had been he who nurtured Andrei Shevchenko into one of Europe’s—and the world’s—best strikers.
The stadium itself may have been an aging Soviet-Era bowl, but to me it meant so much more. It is a testament to a time that interpersonal interaction mattered more. In many ways it is similar to the Soviet style apartment blocks that dot the Kiev skyline when seen from above the Dnepr; both are marks of a past that the future can’t erase despite the ubiquitous ipads and iphones in everyone’s hands and, of course, the shiny new NSC Olympiysky
Dinamo’s old stadium is defined by the columns at the front gate that are more reminiscent of Athens’ Parthenon or London’s British Museum than a soccer stadium. It is also defined by its location in the middle of Kiev’s Kreshcatyi park, another relic of the Soviet past. Inside the park it is possible to experience one of the most peaceful urban feelings in the world. The green makes you feel as if you’re in a forest, the cafes serving coffee and beer make you remember that you are in the middle of a vibrant capital city, and—above all—the views of the Dnieper let you know you are in a beautiful spot.
It is in this spot that one can truly feel the melding of past and future, all that life is and was in a former Soviet capital city. In the park the wooden benches may have aged in the same way that the cracked concrete has, but it is far from a bleak past that jumps out to my eyes, rather it is a hopeful future. On those aging park benches sit young couples, staring at pictures taken on shiny new Nikons while older couples get to know one another. Some speak American accented English, perhaps getting to know one another after lengthy dating on the internet in a way no one could have dreamed of 25 years ago, while local couples sit silently, their intertwined fingers saying more than words ever could.
On the cracked concrete young men and women whirl by on roller-blades preforming a delicate dance between the lines painted on the ground while processions of elderly walk in groups, holding portraits of the Lord Jesus Christ and mouthing hymns in a way no one could have dreamed of 25 years ago. Somewhere along the way I decided to grab a Lvivskie beer and sit beneath the green, breath in the fresh air, and watch it all go by. My mind alternates between thinking of the beautiful girls walking by and thinking of the ongoing battle for a park back in Istanbul and wondering when the world will realize that progress need not erase nature.
Back at the stadium Dinamo have made it 2-0 and are comfortably on their way to an early season victory. While the plush trappings of this modern stadium are comforting, it reminds me that as countries—and stadiums—modernize, the old differences are slowly smoothed over to create a homogenous experience at stadiums the world over. And as the clock ticks towards 90:00 I think of the park and the couples and the green and the old Valerii Lobanovskiy Dinamo Stadium and a smile creeps across my face. As Ukraine moves into the future somewhere between Russia and the European Union it is comforting to know that the old parks will stay, along with the old stadium, for future generations to enjoy and grow old in. It is a lesson that other countries can—and should—take note of.
More pictures can be seen here.