Cool to be invited at the opening of the Lviv Arena, one of the four stadiums designed to host the Euro 2012 championship in Ukraine. A good occasion to come back to this awesome city anyway. Gosh, it feels good to be here.
Arrival to the stadium on Saturday evening. It appears some plastic covers are still laid on some pans of the outside walls. Construction tools and engines everywhere. My fellow journalist Laurent tells me he saw a video on the “Ukrainska Pravda” website, showing seats being set the day before, or was it even earlier in the very afternoon? Anyway. Whatever happens, or did not happen yet, the stadium is set to open.
First steps into the Arena. I am not used to walking into sport arenas, yet this one looks rather small. Two parts of the roof cover are missing and a long part of it is made of mere metal sheets. Bathrooms are… hard to find. After a few minutes waiting, a lady in black shows up on the stage and starts getting the crowd warmed up. Two thirds of the seats are left empty. A few shy shakes-up, some hardly-echoed shouting, and she is gone. Just as she is about to leave the stage, her face appears on giant TV screens, which were until then playing commercials. Turns out this hardly noticed lady in black was Ruslana herself, the Ukrainian pop goddess. Or, as she says, “Wasza Ruslana”. Thank you for coming.
The first performance kicks off at about 8. A large crowd of young people dressed in typically western Ukrainian folk costumes happily chants and fools around for a while. In the story, this could make up an ever after. Unfortunately, a bunch of dark-faced, dark-clothed trouble-makers show up, scares off everyone, beats up anyone who would like to resist. Hey, guys from Donbas pit mines are usually black-clothed as well, aren’t they? And they are not well-known for traditional folk costumes either. It’s probably a coincidence. The ominous invasion ends when a brave knight takes over, beats up even more guys than previously (yep, but he is the good guy so he can do it) and gets himself crowned over an over-enthusiastic Arena. Fair and square, we are in Lviv after all.
Now that Ukrainian unity is reasserted over bad, bad black guys(whoever they were), we can keep celebrating. The stadium is now full, not far from filling in its 32,000 seats. A video recalls the history of the stadium and shows of course its political initiators. Some boos on a certain Yushchenko, mixed feelings over a young-looking Timoshenko, a burst of angry shouts at the sight of a yet almighty Yanukovich.
Comes the inauguration of the stadium itself, nice and shiny, with the gracious help of a beauty queen. The fourth stadium is open, and Ukraine is to host, probably successfully, the European championship. All is good under some fireworks. So Ruslana comes back to testify. And to introduce her new song “Go, Go, Go!”, which has been adopted as the Ukrainian pop anthem of the championship. 38 years-old, still looking good and jumping high for Ukraine. She does not seem to mind the few sound quacks. But she does not look very happy when she exits the stage and is thrown over by some young Ukrainian folk boy. She stands back up, does not smile anymore, hurries out. That’s it, thank you for coming.
After a well-deserved break, here comes the key performance of the show. Anastasia. I had actually lost track of her, although she was quite popular when I was in gymnasium or high school. When I saw her name on the program, I had to check on Youtube to remember who she was. Wow, she did win the “World Artist Award” back in 2009. So it’s probably my fault I don’t remember her. And there she is, coming out from… wherever. Looking older (the diva just turned 43), behaving younger. The arena is invaded by the mass of young actors who earlier on had danced for Ukraine. It gives a kind of fresh and spontaneous atmosphere to the show
Yet, a weird feeling of pathos surrounds the performance. Apparently, I am not the only one not to remember Anastasia. And apparently, she doesn’t really know/care where she is. Not a word in Ukrainian, let alone in Russian. And she is very proud to “be the third person to open this third stadium in your beautiful country”. She got half of it right, not that bad. Crying out loud, overwhelmed by a “Goodness Gracious” every two sentences, she keeps complaining about repeated logistic issues and microphone problems. When she tries to introduce one of her supposedly famous songs about the Big Apple, she feels a “New York flavor tonight”. This sounds rather fake, so fake the audience does not buy it. We are soon back to the two-thirds empty seats. Even young actors and dancers exit the field.
We go back downstairs to the press room. There, we find food leftovers and vodka on the table. But the wall TV screens are turned off and no sound comes in through the thick walls. Booze and no way to know what is happening in the rest of the arena: that’s exactly how I pictured a modern press room!
Just a few minutes back upstairs to enjoy a magnificent firework, and we’re all off. On the way back to the city, it’s time to understand that, yes, the stadium is open and ready to boogie. But parking lats are hardly finished, not lit up. Unlike its sisters in Kyiv and Donetsk, the Lviv Arena is out of the city, in the middle of nowhere. A single two-way lane leads back to the main road, packed as hell. Only private buses are in sight. No public transport to take spectators back home. People walk alongside the road, sometimes over what seems to be 2 or 3 kilometers, to get to bus stops on the main road. Street signaling is made of policemen who regulate the traffic.
Today Sunday 30 October. I won’t go back there, but I am sure construction works already resumed in the Arena and around. Ukraine will be ready, whatever the means.