A Social Media Group Tries to Salvage Ukraine’s Reputation
Posted by Rant4u
For months, Ukraine has been under fire over its preparations to co-host the European soccer championship. Critics accused hoteliers of price gouging, claimed the government was directing cash for infrastructure developments to insider firms and warned fans to stay at home over fears of racist attacks. Now, as fans begin to pour into the country ahead of the first game on Saturday, Ukrainians are fighting back to rescue their country’s reputation.
A group of Ukrainians has linked up via social networks to form “Friendly Ukraine” — a nongovernmental initiative that offers free accommodation, guided tours and interpreting services to foreign fans. “An image has been formed of Ukraine as a frightening and barbaric nation where wild people live,” says Viktoria Svitlova, the groups’ coordinator. “We don’t deny that there are lots of problems, but we want to show that ordinary citizens are civilized and have European views. That’s why we created the initiative.”
When Ukraine was selected as tournament co-host with Poland in 2007, officials touted it as the former Soviet Republic’s chance to show it was ready to join Europe‘s mainstream. Three years earlier, the Orange Revolution had brought a pro-Western president to power, bringing hope that Ukraine could cast off its Soviet past. But preparations were marred by slow progress. A new president, Viktor Yanukovych, came to power in 2010 and sped up work, but this was accompanied by corruption allegations connected with key infrastructure projects, such as new airports and stadiums. Officials denied any wrongdoing.
At the center of criticism has been Yanukovych, who stands accused of rolling back the democratic freedoms that the Orange Revolution brought. Some European leaders have said they will boycott the tournament in protest at the jailing of his main political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on abuse-of-office charges. Western officials say she has been jailed in order to sideline her from politics, and the EU has shelved an agreement that had been aimed at integrating Ukraine economically and politically into the union.
As the tournament approached, Michel Platini, the chief of tournament org