We’re taking a Ukraine check

Picture: AFP/Getty
Picture: AFP/Getty
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As the final whistle blows on Euro 2012 this weekend, we highlight what links Edinburgh and twin city Kiev, which is playing host to the climax of the three-week football extravaganza

ON Sunday night, all eyes will be on one place – the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

The capital city of Ukraine will be in the spotlight for the final of the 14th Uefa European football championship.

Although Scotland didn’t even make it to the finals, that’s no reason not to take an interest in the former Soviet city – even if you’d rather watch paint dry than sit through another penalty shoot-out.

After all, Kiev is one of Edinburgh’s twin cities and has been for 23 years so, in the interests of supporting our sister city, here are 20 facts which link, in the loosest sense of the word, the two capitals – and one which definitely separates them.

1 Kiev was once under the rule of Russian Tsars. Edinburgh of course has its own festivals tsar, Councillor Steve Cardownie. He is well known for his love of Ukraine – especially as it’s where he met his wife, Nataliya – and where he once ran up a mobile phone bill of £900 on a council trip.

2 Indeed, such was Cllr Cardownie’s love of all things former Soviet Union, eight years ago he opened Da, Da, Da (yes, yes, yes) – a short-lived Russian-themed bar in Shandwick Place selling borscht, goulash and lashings of vodka. He eventually also had to say “da” to paying half that phone bill.

3 Like us Edinburghers, the Ukrainians have always liked to defend their city. While we built Edinburgh Castle on Castlehill, they built a hill fortress called Sambat from which they tried to repel the Mongol hordes and later the Russians.

4 Edinburgh has had footballing links with Kiev. For a number of years the Capital hosted a twin city football tournament where young Hearts and Hibs players took on those from Dynamo Kiev, as well as Bayern Munich, Xi’an and Fiorentina.

5 On a more serious note, Ukrainian teenager Alexei Lomonosov was flown to Edinburgh for a life-saving operation in 1994. The 14-year-old suffered a rare crippling tumour near his sciatic nerve which could not be treated in Kiev. He was operated on at St John’s Hospital in Livingston by surgeon Awf Quaba – free of charge – but only came here because the Edinburgh-based Medical Foundation was the only organisation which responded to Alexei’s dad’s worldwide plea for help.

6 The Scottish premiere of Rising Sun, starring Sir Sean Connery, right, at Clerk Street’s Odeon cinema was used to raise £10,000 for Edinburgh Rotary Club’s appeal for its Kiev Project. The project aimed to bring young Ukrainian people to Scotland to be taught new skills and to bring needy kids to the UK for short holidays.

7 If you thought Edinburgh’s floral clock was unique, think again. Kiev has its own version, but only after park experts from the Capital flew out there in the late 1990s to help the city bloom. The city also, like Edinburgh, has a botanic garden.

8 Anyone for chicken Kiev? The dish of pounded chicken breast rolled around garlic butter, breaded then baked is forever linked with the Ukrainian capital. Unfortunately, though, it’s believed to have actually been invented in Moscow. It was introduced to Britain in 1976 and was M&S’s first ready-made meal, but in Edinburgh the finest version is reportedly to be found at the L’Alba D’Oro chippy in Henderson Row.

9 Renowned folk singer, poet and Edinburgh University academic Hamish Henderson once wrote a song called The Ghillie Mhor, about Leith and Kiev, which was later popularised by singer Dick Gaughan.

10 In fact, Kiev is as much a university city as Edinburgh, and boasts three great seats of learning – Kiev National Taras Shevchenko University, the National Technical University and Kiev-Mohyla Academy.

11 Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns are designated as Unesco World Heritage Sites, and so are Kiev’s St Sophia Cathedral and the Pechersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves.

12 While we might share floral clocks, universities, and World Heritage Sites, guess what Kiev has that Edinburgh doesn’t? That’s right – a tram. In fact, the city has a highly developed system of public transport including the Kiev Metro and, at the turn of the 20th century, boasted the first electric tram line of the Russian Empire and arguably the world.

13 Thanks to the Edinburgh International Festival, many theatre and arts groups have come from Kiev to perform in the Capital. Back in 1992, when the revamped City Art Centre opened, one of its first exhibition was Spirit of Ukraine: 500 Years of Painting, the first major exhibition of Ukrainian art to be seen in western Europe.

14 Selling potatoes to Russians sounds like trying to sell sand to the Saudis. Yet a Haddington potato merchant struck a £6 million deal to do just that. Well, the machinery and skills to enable an area near Kiev to grow its own. John Bethell said the negotiations were only possible because of the twinning agreement between Kiev and Edinburgh.

15 Staying in Haddington, cheeky thieves used a wheelbarrow to steal a £24,000 bronze sculpture from the Sands Gallery back in 1992. The two-foot, 200lb statue The Football Supporters was created by Valentin Znoba, whose statue of Lenin was pulled down in Kiev’s October Square after the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

16 A Ukrainian cultural centre used to be housed in a former social club in Windsor Street. The premises were bought by expats after they settled in Edinburgh at the end of the Second World War. There is now a Ukrainian community centre in Royal Terrace.

17 Edinburgh has the wonderful St Andrew Square, left, named after the country’s patron saint. Well, Kiev also lays claims to old St Andy, and legend has it that where he erected a cross while passing through, a church now stands.

18 Shevchenko is not just a Ukrainian footballer, left. No, Tara Shevchenko is the country’s national bard, its equivalent of Robert Burns. While Burns is honoured with a statue in Bernard Street, Kiev is littered with stone tributes to its poet.

19 Kiev’s Olympic Stadium – previously known as the Red Stadium of Trotsky and the Republican Stadium of Khrushchev – has seen internationally renowned pop stars such as Shakira use it as a venue.

While on a smaller scale, our own athletics stadium, Meadowbank (always known as er . . . Meadowbank), has played host to the likes of Radiohead and Snow Patrol.

20 Like those who believe the New Year should be seen in by a dook in the Firth of Forth, Ukrainian orthodox believers celebrate Epiphany by bathing in the freezing water of Kiev’s river the Dnieper.

21 1457 miles – that is what approximately, as the crow flies, separates Edinburgh from Kiev (that’s 2344.31km for those who deal in new money). There are, though, daily flights from Edinburgh to Kiev, bringing the twinned cities much closer.