Inception

“It’s called inception.” – Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), Inception (2010)

The first snow fell yesterday. That was the kick. I am in the second dream level now. The first snow came some seventy days after I first stepped on Ukrainian soil and barely 24 hours after I had temporarily relinquished my passport to the university in order to have my registration finalized with the proper governmental authorities – housing, immigration etc. Rich in poetic and literary allure, the first snow marks the transition from the temporary to the semi-permanent; from the seasonal to the annual. Up until now I had been living here as a visa-free guest and operating on a 90-day mindset. From this point forward, may stay is no longer temporary and I can no longer be mistaken for a tourist.

I came to Crimea as an English Teaching Assistant on the Fulbright program. I was unsure what exactly this would entail. As it turns out, that ambivalence was shared by my host institutions. My first few weeks here were somewhat frustrating as it took a long time to establish a normal work schedule. I am deeply indebted to my colleague Marina for helping me obtain an apartment and internet service. Without her assistance, my first days here could have been brutal. After initial meetings and protracted negotiations, ambivalence gave way to some semblance of structure and routine.

I essentially perform three functions here: guest lecturing at a university, English teaching at a library, and facilitating an English club at the local “Windows on America” library. I supplement these activities with Fulbright outreach and consultations with prospective applicants. For the most part, this amounts to informing them about the application process, advising them on essay writing, and preparing them for the necessary tests.

I live in Simferopol, the administrative center of Crimea and home to nearly 350,000 people. The city was established as Aqmescit (White Mosque) by Crimean Tatars and re-named Simferopol after the annexation of the Crimean Khanate by Russian Empress Catherine II in 1784. Sorry, that was a temporary lapse. I remember now my solemn vows to exclude facts and learning from my blog. Anyhow, Simferopol is nothing special. There are some nice cafes and restaurants, but it doesn’t take long to see it all. I am, however, infatuated with its affordable cost of living – groceries, restaurants, transportation are all quite affordable. It obviously doesn’t hurt that the Fulbright grant is reasonably generous. I rent a two-room room-and-a-bed apartment located within walking distance from a market and the central bus station, but more about that in a future installment. As is common practice, my apartment is a third-generation Fulbright legacy shelter passed on by colleagues who had come before me.

My host university is Tavrida National V.I. Vernadsky University (TNU), the largest and most comprehensive university in Crimea founded in 1917 and named in honor of an important geologist. At TNU, I am affiliated with the English and Translation Departments. Periodically, I am invited to give guest lectures on various subjects to students training to become translators and interpreters. So far, I have spoken on topics such as the American education and legal systems, and human rights. I look forward to doing more at the university and getting to know the students better.

My secondary institution is the Ivan Franko Republican Library of Crimea. The library celebrated its 90th anniversary on November 30th. Ivan Franko was a man of letters and revolutionary remembered both for his literary and political accomplishments. His face is on the twenty here. The deputy culture minister of Crimea made an official request to the US Embassy to send an English teacher to the library and they got me. I teach two groups that each meet with me twice a week. My students are the employees of the library who have volunteered to participate in the course. The lofty objective is the increase the librarians’ familiarity with the English language in order to improve the library’s effectiveness and capability to communicate with colleagues from other countries. I find myself in uncharted waters as I am not a trained English teacher. I toiled away at university writing political science papers about war and conflict, institutions and compromise, and drawing supply and demand curves in economics courses. No TESOL/TEFL. No pedagogical coursework. I find teaching at the library to be a challenging, but rewarding experience. I think I have made inroads. The students keep coming back, for the most part. At the very least, coming to my class seems to be more useful and interesting than an hour of work. Low threshold, but I’ll take it.

Lastly, I conduct a voluntary English club called “Conversation and Games” at the Windows on America (WoA) library housed at KIPU – the Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University (CEPU in English). Windows on America sites (also known as American Corner posts in some countries) are English-language libraries sponsored by the Embassy, where students (and others) can access books and other educational materials in English, surf the Internet, learn about the United States including our universities, and attend various clubs facilitated by local ex-pats such as Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbrighters. My English club at WoA is the newest and most relaxed aspect of my work in Simferopol. I intend to expand my role at the center next semester.

KIPU is a new university, founded post-independence and housed in a former Red Army barracks. It is a common practice in former Yugoslavia to convert old military buildings into universities and it seems that the same is true here. KIPU exists to serve the needs of the Crimean Tatar community and, indeed, Crimean Tatar students compose more than half of the student body. Crimean Tatars have called Crimea home for centuries. They are Muslim and their language is related to Turkish. In one of the worst examples of Stalinist terror, the entire Crimean Tatar nation was accused of Nazi collaboration and exiled to the steppes of Uzbekistan after WWII. Almost half perished during the deportation and the first year in Uzbekistan. Nowadays, Crimean Tatars are returning from exile to their ancestral lands and beginning anew. There are about a quarter million Tatars in Crimea (12-13% of the overall population); the community has grown larger than the one still in exile.  

To do best of my ability, I seek to make myself available for oureach activities by speaking with students about the Fulbright program and advising prospective applicants on the application process, essays, and test stragies for the GRE and TOEFL. Last week, Fulbright was in town (and around Crimea) promoting the program and searching for prospective applicants. I went around town for the various outreach events and may be doing more of that in the future. Note to self: Business cards are a must, make them already!

On weekends and occasionally Fridays, I travel around Crimea. I’ve visited Bakhchisaray thrice, Sevastopol twice, and Yalta, Alushta, Sudak and Novi Svet once.In November, I went to Kiev for an ETA conference. I spent Halloween weekend as an international election observer in Odessa. This was an exhausting and surreal experience for which I regretfully did not have time and energy to encapsulate into words immediately, but perhaps I will do so ex post facto when time permits. Two weeks, I undertook a soccer pilgrimage to Donetsk. I shall write about this next.

Not everything is rainbows and sunshine, however. The onset of winter and the first snowfall foreshadow an ominous predicament for my professional future. It is already December 11th and I haven’t touched a single grad school application nor have I typed a single word of an admittance statement. The deadlines are closing in fast. At this rate, I may likely find myself taking another (unplanned) gap year. I am enjoying my Fulbright experience at the moment and I will not let such trivial matters as the future or the rest of my life weigh me down. Life is good now and the future can wait. An international team of expert thieves specializing in subconscious grand larceny called extraction would have to traverse three dream levels and insert an alternative idea in my mind through an experimental method called inception in order to convince me of the contrary. Luckily, I’ve shelled out top dollar for the best subconscious security that hryvnias can buy. Do your worst, DiCaprio…I am the king of the world now!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You’ve Got Mail

  As an undergraduate student in my junior year at IPFW, I was priviliged to be named the Richard G. Lugar Scholar of International Affairs. I spent the Fall 2008 semester as an intern for Senator Lugar alternating weeks at his main office and Senate Foreign Relations Committee office. My internship concluded with short stints in the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne offices. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from Senator Lugar last month congratulating me on my selection as a Fulbrighter. I have written a response and I have chosen to make it public for two reasons. First, I have utmost respect for Senator Lugar’s lifelong commitment on national security and foreign policy issues Second, I am grateful for the opportunity that the Fulbright program has given me and I went to do my part by sending correspondence to our elected leaders to ensure that this opportunity exists for others in the future.

Senator Lugar meeting with former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymushenko in Hart 306, the office where I Interned. Note Yulia's trademark country girl braids.

Senator Lugar and (at the time) Senator Obama at a weapons factory in Donetsk.

 

Dear Senator Lugar,

 I was honored to receive the letter you sent last month. My dad read it to me while we spoke over the Internet. As you know, I am now living in Ukraine as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Though I initially applied to Macedonia, as your former intern, I find it fitting that I am here. Ukraine has always figured prominently in your work in foreign affairs, especially your work on arms reduction and nuclear security. The current debate about the START treaty ant the recent debate about the extension of the lease for the Russian Black Sea Fleet indicate that this part of the world remains rather relevant on the global political landscape.

 I am deeply honored that the Fulbright program has chosen me to participate in this incredible opportunity. As a student of politics and economics, I understand the precarious nature of our nation’s fiscal health and the sobering difficulty that awaits the next Congress in attempting to ameliorate it. As such, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Congress for recognizing the value of international education and public diplomacy. I hope that Congress will resist the expedient temptation to reduce foreign policy expenditures when it addresses the urgent need to restore sensibility to the nation’s treasury. The State Department does incredible work on behalf of our country on a spartan budget.

 I want to take this opportunity to thank you for providing me with a letter of recommendation and supporting my dream to be a Fulbrighter. During Fulbright orientation in Washington this past July, I stopped by your office and the committee office. Please extend my personal appreciation to [your staff] for receiving me warmly.

 The Fulbright commission in conjunction with our embassy in Kiev placed me in the Crimean administrative center of Simferopol. My arrival here coincides with several other public diplomacy initiatives by the embassy to promote American presence in this [area of] Ukraine. Essentially, I have three roles here: giving guest lectures at a university to translation and interpretation students on various topics including human rights and American studies, teaching two English classes at a library to its employees, and facilitating English clubs at the local Windows on America library. I complement my work here with Fulbright outreach activities. For the most part, this amounts to discussing the program to prospective applicants and advising them on essay writing and test strategies for the TOEFL and GRE.

 These first two months of my Fulbright year have given me insight and experience that will undoubtedly leave an incredible impression on my future professional and personal life. As Americans, we have the luxury of taking our democracy and open market economy for granted. Ukrainian students that I have met have shared their horror stories about bribes and corruption. Moreover, I personally witnessed grave faults within the political and electoral system when I served as an international election observer during the October 31st local elections in Odessa. My fellow observers and I noted many outlandish discrepancies that constitute a backward step for the precarious Ukrainian experiment with democracy. It is an unsettling feeling to say that I was an international observer for an election deemed to be far from free and fair, but that is the reality of the situation.

 The time I have spent here has re-invigorated my interest in world affairs and renewed my already strong conviction to pursue a career in the State Department’s Foreign Service. After Fulbright, I hope to continue my education by pursuing a practical Master’s degree in international affairs that will make me a stronger candidate for State. As a temporary resident of the predominantly Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, I have been doing my best to learn Russian out of personal necessity to make things easier for myself here in everyday situations and a professional desire to acquire a critical needs language. In this respect, the re-assignment of my application from Macedonia to Ukraine has been a blessing in disguise.

 Again, I want to take the opportunity to express my gratitude to Congress, your staff, and yourself for the support and trust that you have given me. I wish you the best of luck in your continued work in the United States Senate representing Indiana and Hoosiers on the great issues of our time. I am proud to be a former Lugar intern as you continue to place national interest and sound public policy at a time when so many of your colleagues on both sides of the aisle have succumbed to the cheap allure of political gamesmanship and partisan vitriol that seem to prevail on Capitol Hill these days.

Sincerely,

Eldin Hasic

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sunday Night Lights

“You know I can’t take a Yank to football.” – Pete, Green Street Hooligans

My initial reaction to my Fulbright redemption in Ukraine was “cool…they are co-hosting EURO 2012!” I could never play the game myself. There’s something about running for an eternity that doesn’t strike my fancy, but I love football.  No, not that one – the one where you actually use feet as an integral part of the sport hence the name. I got my first taste of live football in Ukraine this past Sunday. This damn sure ain’t West Texas and it ain’t high school football, so the electric company makes its money on Sunday, not Friday.

SK "Tavriya" Simferopol - the standard bearer for Crimean football

I couldn’t miss this match. The local lads were playing the big boys from Kyiv, the feared powerhouse of Ukrainian football that I wrote about a few weeks back – Dynamo! My local team is “Tavriya” Simferopol, the valiant defender of Crimea’s honor in the Ukrainian Premier League. Tavriya won the inaugural post-independence football championship in Ukraine and still remains the only team to win the title aside from the giants – “Dynamo” Kyiv and “Shakhtar” Donetsk.

Andriy Shevchenko, the golden boy of Ukrainian football, was missing in action for unknown reasons, but the Dynamo side boasted several prominent players that I knew including Croatian midfield anchorman Ognjen Vukojevic, Russian-born Finnish playmaker Roman Eremenko Jr., and the strike partnership of Ukrainian internationals Artem Milevskiy and wunderkind Andriy Yarmolenko. Regardless, I was more interested in the players representing my newly adopted hometown club. There were three players in the side from the former Yugoslavia: right back Sasa Djuricic, center back and/or defensive midfielder and club captain Slobodan Markovic, and left midfielder Zeljko Ljubenovic. My attempts to stalk them over the Internet have been unsuccessful so far, but I intend to remain relentless in my pursuit of virtual friendships with these fellow Balkan journeymen.

My 30 UAH (approx. $4.75) ticket placed me in row ten of the center-right section of the East end of the stadium. Money well spent. According to the irrevocably accurate archives of human knowledge known as Wikipedia, the stadium holds 19,978 spectators and I’d venture to guesstimate that it was two-thirds full. The atmosphere was good with drums, flags, and chants emanating from Sector 5 to my left where Tavriya’s elite, eternally loyal, diehard supporters reside. The older gentlemen sitting behind me were loud and energetic. I learned several new Russian curse words that they directed at the referee. As a political scientist, I couldn’t help but to notice the contrasts in allegiance between the rival fan groups. The “Tavriya” supporters waved exclusively the Crimean flag and banners, while “Dynamo” fans hoisted Ukrainian flags and identified themselves with a banner with Kyiv written in Ukrainian and English: Crimean Fans – Dynamo Kyiv/Kiev. The sole Georgian flag waved at the opposite end of the stadium was met with a snarky “Gruziyska Mafia” comment and laugh from the gentleman behind me.

As far as the football on offer is concerned, the second half was much better than the first. Milevskiy expertly took advantage of sloppy marking in our defense and expertly finished immediately after the re-start to give Dynamo the advantage. We equalized shortly thereafter off a corner kick taken by Ljubenovic and headed in by Ruslan Platon. There were few other clear-cut chances, so both teams were left content with the final 1-1 result. A couple knee-crunching tackles threatened to causes skirmishes, but the referee kept things from boiling over. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so this entry is light on audio-visual stimulation. However, I can show the match highlights using the magical powers of the internets.

I enjoyed my excursion at the “Lokomotiv” Stadium as it’s called and I’m looking forward to hopefully catching the Crimean derby against Sevastopol before the long winter break. However, the real excitement lies in the industrial east where I intend to venture in a fortnight to Donetsk – a city known for its mines and its football team nicknamed “the miners.” Donetsk is one of the four cities in Ukraine that will host EURO 2012 matches at the 50,000+ seat five-star Donbass Arena. I must make a pilgrimage to this cathedral of the beautiful game. Thy kingdom come (in Donetsk).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Minority Report

“Life in [Simferopol’] will never be the same without you.” – Henchman, From Russia With Love

At our ETA conference last week in Kyiv, we were asked to compile a short report about our institutions, teaching loads, and other relevant information for the folks in Foggy Bottom. I intend to e-mail my report tonight, but it would have been easier to just show them via video. After all, if a picture is worth a 1000 words, this video must be worth at least 1000².

It has been an interesting five weeks…

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Champagne Campaign

“On my champagne campaign, bottle after bottle, it’s on and we’re going to sip on every bubble ’til every bubble is gone.” – 50 Cent, Candy Shop

The Majestic Beauty of Sudak

View of the Black Sea from top of the Genoese fortress in Sudak

I haven’t written much about Crimea, but I shall soon. Crimea (Krim here) has a certain charm that is definitely starting to grow on me. I spent last Saturday on a day-trip to Sudak and Novi Svyet. Sudak is a quiet town on the coast with great hiking destinations. The main attraction is the imposing Genoese fortress built on a seaside cliff.

Fortress Gate

Italian city-states built forts such as this one in Sudak to re-supply ships and protect trade links in Eurasia

Crimea was an important harbor for Eurasian trade before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen ninety-two. Global geopolitics favored the Italian city-states and their navies, so remnants of Genoese and Venetian forts can be found around Crimea. The fort is astonishingly well-preserved. Battle scars of eventual Ottoman conquest are present: the conversion of a church to a mosque, wells for storing water during a siege, cannon embankements…

Speaking of the new world, the town of Novi Svyet (literally New World) is located six kilometers up the road from Sudak. It is noteworthy for two things – a beach and a champagne factory. Yes, you are correct! The two are best enjoyed together. Rumor has it that $20 will provide the pleasure of trying six different kinds of wine and champagne while a violinist plays in the background for your personal, aristocratic enjoyment. The statue of a champagne bottle made out of bottles sent out Dionysian temptations, but a Sisyphian tragedy would rule on this day. The factory is closed on weekends. So close, but so far away. I shall return here and I’ll brink the Ukrainian equivalent of Andrew Jackson with me.

The view from the beach in Novi Svyet

It may have been November 6th, but several brave souls were swimming. T-shirt weather!

Alas, Marina and I had to settle for the next best alternative – downing a bottle of Crimean champagne while people watching at the beach and dock. There were a few people swimming in November due to a remarkable heat wave. The serene calm was disturbed by the cacophony of car sirens signaling a wedding procession. The newlyweds skipgiggled (trademark on neologism pending) to the beach and made out under a fish net covering while the photographer blitzed away with his camera. I’m not sure what to make of their risque approach to wedding photography. I’ll give credit for bringing novel to an overtly stale, predictable art form.

I catch myself in the unwarranted position of becoming sophisticated and cultured. My taste buds respond to dry Crimean champagne and “Masandra” white wine along with  Georgian semisweet red. That would be the Georgia in the South Caucasus, not our South. Anyway, classy drinking excites the inner Gatsby within me.  I temper these bourgeoise tendencies with a healthy penchant for old-fashioned proletarian vodka. Unfiltered “live” lagers and  red absinthe served in chemistry class beakers round out the poison on offer.

This was a fun, but unfortunately short day. The sun sets early here. It was pitch black by the time we took the bus back to Simferopol at 6pm. The famed Eastern winter that stopped both Napoleon and Hitler strikes the higher latitudes above Crimea, but we are not impervious to the long winter nights. I sense that Ukraine should be in a time zone further east…let there be light!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Eastbound and Down III

*October 2nd-3rd: This post threatened to be overrun by a long rant about soccer, so I wrote a separate entry about that. Now, the thrilling conclusion to Fulbright orientation in Kyiv!

After a presentation on the Ukrainian higher education system and lunch, I had the afternoon free to explore the city with several other colleagues. We explored several landmarks including St. Sophia’s Cathedral, a symbol of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stunning and beautiful. We did our best to translate the Old Slavonic writing on a rock approaching its 1000th birthday in 2037, but had little success. Onwards, workers were busy finalizing preparations for a stage in front of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral. Former President Clinton was speaking here on AIDS tomorrow afternoon about, but I couldn’t be in attendance due to my 6pm train.

After dinner, we were invited to a cultural event of our choice: the opera or the orchestra. I went with “Cinderella” at the Kiev Opera House as did most others. The general consensus, informed by resident Fulbright experts on the arts, was that the performance was good, though too stale and robotic. No flair or creativity. Ladies in attendance found fault with the casting choice for Prince Charming. Apparently, he was too short and stocky for the part. It turns out real life equals the fairy tale plus 30 lb. As for my opinion of the opera…I didn’t have one. I dozed off as soon as the lights were dimmed. Jet lag kicked in and I was powerless to fight it.

 Afterwards, Zach and Raphi invited us over to their apartment for drinks. I drank sweet Crimean wine out of curiosity and vodka out of necessity. I needed a couple of shots to jolt me out od my jet-lagged comatose state. Cheers to the start of a great year! 

The next morning was our last in Kyiv. We left our bags at the hotel and explored the city more while waiting for the late afternoon trains that would take us to our final destinations. I walked around the city with Jon and Marina. Jon is the only other ETA in Ukraine. He is teaching in Ivano-Frankivsk, a Carpathian city in the west near the Polish border. Marina is the only other Fulbrighter in Crimea, affiliated with the same university as me. She is here doing research on the Crimean Tatars. I owe her a great deal as she generously served as a translator for me while I took care of intangibles such as housing, Internet, and computer repair over the oncoming week.

We encountered a Ferrari parked across the street from a Communist Party tent guarding the resident Lenin statue. Truly a unique sight that speaks volumes about life in the post-Communist era in the former Soviet republics – the haves and have nots, the nouveau riche oligarchs and the downtrodden nostalgics reminiscing about the good old days of cheap vodka and Soviet Olympic glory in men’s gymnastics! Alas, sometimes I cannot resist the temptation to weave my own narrative about the observations I make.

We lost an hour while searching for the Pushkin Arts Center located next to a Ferrari dealership. It turns out we were looking for the Pinchuk Arts Center adjacent to a store selling Ferrari-branded clothing and memorabilia. Pushkin is the father of Russian vernacular literature, while Pinchuk, son-in-law of Former President Kuchma, is a billionaire oligarch slash media mogul turned patron of the arts. No wonder we couldn’t find the Pushkin Arts Center, because it doesn’t exist. The Pinchuk Arts Center was closed in preparation  for a new exhibition. Wild goose chase and rookie tourist jitters!

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gathered here in December 2004 demanding free and fair elections after the disputed fraud-laden first round.

We made our way down (or up?) Khreshatik towards Maidan. Khreshatik is the main street in Kyiv, lined with shops, and populated with street vendors and performers, while Maidan is the main square in the city. A monument, a long column with an angelic figure on top, was built here to commemorate Ukrainian independence hence the full name – Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). It may seem like a distant memory now, literally and figuratively if undemocratic trends continue under the new government, but this was the geographic epicenter of the Orange Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gathered here in 2004 to protest rigged elections and demand democratization. The scenes made news around the world, but Maidan was quiet on this day. Like most social movements of its kind, the Orange coalition splintered when it needed to govern. Political observers note that cynicism has set in once again, locking the enthusiastic Orange spirit in hibernation for at least a generation.

Our tour of the city was complete with a trek to the “Dynamo” stadium. I devoted my previous entry to Ukraine’s most famous football club to avoid a tangent here. Jon bid us farewell. His train was later than ours, so he had time to catch the Clinton speech. Marina and I met Raphi and Zach for dinner. I had pizza, but also learned that borsch, the national dish here, attains its status because it is made from the few ingredients that are available year round. I’ve always found it interesting how historical and geographic circumstances impact national cuisine.

The walk to the train station (via the hotel to pick up our luggage) was a chilly walk. My fellow Fulbrighters’ assistance with luggage was much obliged. Let’s just say that the typical train traveller doesn’t bring two giant 50 lb. suitcases, but Raphi managed to expertly stash them in our compartment. We shared our coupe (train compartment for four with essentially bunk-beds on either side with a window and folding table in-between) with Nikolai, a Kyiv-based engineer working for Boeing, and his wife Leonora. Nikolai picked up some English when he attended a Boeing training seminar in Seattle, but I mostly listened while they spoke with Marina in Russian. I could only pick up the very basic crux of the conversations they had due to the Slavic similarities between Russian and Bosnian, so Marina summarized for me from time to time.

Our journey was roughly fifteen hours long. We brought some snacks for the trip, but they proved to be unnecessary as Nikolai and Leonora shared their food with us. We had a real picnic on that little folding table. I even called a truce in my war on fresh vegetables and ate a tomato so as not to seem rude or ungrateful. Afterwards, we washed our food down with local Crimean cognac. The trick was to take a sip and follow it with an apple slice. On a side note, we would improve upon this local tradition later by pre-dipping the apple slices in Nutella. Delicious, especially with cognac! Drinking on a train, aside from its obvious recreational purpose, served a medicinal role as well. As Nikolai promised, I slept remarkably well considering the circumstances.

At the train station in Simferopol, Marina and I were met by our respective landlords. I was taking over the Fulbright “legacy” apartment previously occupied by two previous Fulbrighters in Crimea. I had finally reached my final destination and it was time to see where I would be living for the next ten months, the so-called American Outpost on Turgeneva!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Escape to Victory

“Where should I stand for a corner kick?” – Hatch (Sylvester Stallone), Escape to Victory (1981)

The Fulbright office in Kyiv is located within walking distance from the Dynamo Kyiv Stadium. As the self-appointed Fulbright expert on football (soccer), I’m familiar with various aspects of Dynamo lore. Dynamo was the pride of Ukraine in the Soviet league, routinely finishing ahead of the Muscovite sides to lift the championship a record thirteen times. After independence, Dynamo has dominated the Ukrainian league winning another thirteen titles and maintaining a duopoly of the domestic league along with Shkahtar Donetsk from the industrial east. Dynamo made it to the the semi-finals of the Champions League in 1999 led by the feared Shevchenko-Rebrov strike partnership and coached by the great Valeriy Lobanovskyi.

Speaking of Lobanovskyi, Dynamo’s stadium is named after him. Valeriy Lobanovskiy was a legendary disciplinarian and tactician credited with pioneering the use of computer technology in soccer. He masterminded Dynamo’s dominance of the Soviet league during the glory years and coached the USSR national football team during the 80s, most notably at Euro ’88 where they reached the final, but fell to a majestic Dutch side featuring the likes of Rijkaard, Gullit, and Van Basten. Lobanovskyi returned to coach Dynamo in 1997 and won another five titles before dying at the age of 63 due to complications suffered during brain surgery undertaken after a stroke. 

Andriy Shevchenko, arguably the most famous Ukrainian in the world, began his career here and has returned to finish it with his boyhood club after spells at AC Milan in Italy and Chelsea in England. It is in while waring the famous black-and-red stripes of AC Milan that Shevchenko became one of the best strikers of his generation and won numerous honours including the 2003 Champions League and 2004 Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball). He has a century of caps for his country and a record 45 goals. He captained Ukraine at the 2006 World Cup, the country’s first appearance at a major international tournament as an independent country.Though in the twilight of his career at age 34, he is captaining both Dynamo and Ukraine and serving as an ambassador for EURO 2012, the upcoming European Football Championships co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

Shevchenko’s boyhood idol and coach at the 2006 World Cup, Oleg Blokhin is another Dynamo legend. He played nearly two decades for the club, scored a Soviet record 211 goals, added another 42 for the USSR national team, and won the Ballon d’or himself in 1975.

The most intriguing and unfortunately little-known part of the Dynamo story concerns the fate of its players during WWII. In 1942, in Nazi-occupied Kyiv, a team of mostly pre-war Dynamo players representing the city as FC Start played in a league set up by the occupiers. Despite concerns that playing in the league would be tantamount to collaboration with the Nazi regime, the team chose to play out of a determination to lift the morale of the civilan populace with victories on the football pitch. They never lost a game, claiming victories along the way over various teams comprised of soldiers from the occupying forces. Their story culminated tragically with “The Death Match” on August 9th. 1942 when they played a team representing the Luftwaffe in a high-stakes re-match. Pressured to lose and aware that failing to throw the game may prove to be fatal, FC Start won the game 5-3. Soon after, the players were accused of being NKVD spies, arrested, tortured by the Gestapo, and sent to labor camps. One former Dynamo player died under torture, while another three perished in labor camps. The survivors popularized the story in Soviet society after the war.

Their incredible story inspired the plot of the 1981 film Escape to Victory where a team of Allied POWs takes on the German National Team in occupied Paris. The film featured a ragtag cast of actors and star 70s footballers in the POW side: Sylvester Stallone in goal, Michael Caine and Bobby Moore in defense, Osvaldo Ardiles in midfield, and “The King of Football” Pele up front.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment