Swedish campers in Kiev put up with delays

Swedish campers in Kiev put up with delays

Published Jun. 10, 2012 5:01 p.m. ET

Camp Sweden stretches out across a large island in the middle of Kiev, a picturesque camping site with sandy beaches overlooking the city and vast tree-filled areas that will be home to about 5,000 Swedish fans during the European Championship.

When the first of them started arriving over the weekend, however, things were far from idyllic.

Large parts of the camping area looked more like a landfill than a temporary home, as local contractors had failed to install many of the promised amenities on time - a reminder that while Ukraine's official Euro 2012 preparations were completed on time, some of the side projects left to local companies and authorities haven't always kept pace.

''There was just a few dirty toilets, and no working showers,'' said Lars Staffansson, a 22-year-old fan who arrived at Camp Sweden on Friday with three friends. ''But we were expecting the worst.''


The four of them put the delays down to a lax attitude among the local workers tasked with getting things ready.

''The work ethic doesn't seem to be that great,'' Staffansson said. ''You see some of the Ukrainian workers just standing around. Then they dig a little hole, and that's it.''

By Sunday, things had improved drastically. More toilets had been installed and hot water was running in the showers, but electricity and the promised Internet access was still sparse.

About 2,000 fans were expected to arrive on the island on Sunday, bringing the total number to about 3,500 since Friday, said David Forsberg, who is in charge of volunteer workers at the site.

The camp on Trukhaniv Island is accessed by a pedestrian bridge that stretches over the Dnieper River. From the main entrance, tents in all colors stretch out for hundreds of yards in each direction, with Swedish flags and laundry lines hanging between the trees.

''It's a fantastic location here, with the beach and the view and the water,'' said Johan Rehnstrom, one of Staffansson's friends. ''I'm sure it'll be great.''

With Ukraine, and Kiev in particular, eager to present itself in a positive light to the rest of Europe, the problems at Camp Sweden were one of the biggest blemishes to its image so far. UEFA spent the last several years issuing constant warnings to Ukraine about delays and urging them to speed up preparations for the biggest sporting event the country has hosted.

While all the stadiums and major infrastructure work was completed on time, there was some last-minute work still going on in Kiev this weekend to put on the finishing touches. Bare-chested workers were busy constructing a fan zone just outside the Olympic Stadium on Friday, and a large crane was still on the site on Sunday - a day before Ukraine's opener against Sweden.

In the last month, Kiev has rushed to prepare for the influx of foreign fans. Signs and announcements on the metro and on buses appeared in English, while in downtown Kiev, dozens of map boards and signposts sprang up showing directions in English.

The shoddy conditions at Camp Sweden were publicized by main organizer Ingo Soderlund, who held a news conference for local media last week urging the mayor to deploy more workers and pull off a ''miracle'' to get the site ready on time. Forsberg said city officials responded well.

''We've always had great support from UEFA and the city,'' he said. ''But perhaps the attitude here is more to do things in the last minute. It's just a culture clash. We do things one way in Sweden, they do it another way here.''

The first deputy head of the Kiev city administration, Oleksandr Mazurchak, visited the camp on Sunday to check on the progress. He said the Swedish fans he talked to were satisfied with the situation.

''Their impressions are positive,'' Mazurchak said. ''We are waiting for the so-called caravan of love, as it is called by Swedish fans.''

It was arriving in force on Sunday, and most of the new camp residents seemed pleasantly surprised after reading Swedish media reports about all the problems.

''Friends were sending us newspaper articles, saying 'You'll be living in a sand pit,''' said Joel Eneras, a 23-year-old fan from Goteborg. ''But things were much better here than we had heard.''

The whole point of a camping site, many residents said, is that living conditions are supposed to be simple.

''We have sun. We have beer. What more do you need,'' said Karoline Larsson, one of several fans wearing a yellow-and blue shirt with the inspirational text ''If Greece can, we can'' - a reference to the Greeks' triumph at Euro 2004.

While the sun was shining brightly on Sunday afternoon, a major rain and thunder storm hit Kiev hours earlier and the weather could cause an additional problem for the campers. But some have already thought of solutions.

''We have a shovel,'' Eneras said. ''We're going to build a moat around the tent.''

The camp site has its own fan zone with a big-screen TV to show the games - which finally had electricity on Sunday - along with a restaurant, a beach volley court and cafes. Well-known Swedish artists are set to play there during the next two weeks, and the fans plan on marching in unison to the Olympic Stadium for Sweden's game against Ukraine on Monday.

But despite the many improvements over the weekend, not everything was getting better at Camp Sweden.

''They've decided to make the beer more expensive,'' Staffansson said. ''When we arrived, it was 8 hryvnia (about $1). Now it's 30.''

Perhaps that's the price for a clean toilet.


Associated Press writer James Marson contributed to this report.