In the end, they opted for Christmas Orange

Kiev, Ukraine | Perhaps the stirrings in Ukraine—which today holds a presidential election to replace the voided result of Nov 21—are best captured in the lines of Andriy Bondar‘s “Roman Alphabet.” The poem, tellingly, is composed in Roman rather than Cyrillic characters.

one of my friends thinks

that if we switch to the roman alphabet

our people will steal less

and immediately

our messy byzantinisms

our obnoxious sovietisms our endless ugro-finnisms

(sorry ugrics, sorry finns)

will disappear and something will snap in our heads

—and “voila!” we are part of europe

One realizes that more is being contested in this election than a choice between two men. The issues involve orientation (East vs. West), language (Ukrainian vs. Russian) and other fundamental aspects of identity. Debate continues over whether the name of the capital should be rendered in the Roman-style “Kiev” or the Ukrainian “Kyiv” or “Kyyiv.” Naturally, football has been part of the upheavals. Shakhtar Donetsk of eastern Ukraine, a top side that regularly appears in European competitions, earlier this month faced the quandary of whether their first-choice kit would send the wrong political message (Dominic O’Reilly, “Orange Revolution Won’t Distract Ukrainians from Their Goal,” Scotland Sunday Herald, Dec 5). Orange, the Donetsk color, has been adopted by the so-called revolutionaries backing Viktor Yushchenko, while the industrial region encompassing Donetsk strongly supports the departing Leonid Kuchma and designated successor Viktor Yanukovich. Donetsk had played in white in an earlier Champions League fixture against AC Milan, but facing Barcelona on Dec 7 they selected orange, winning 2–0.

The lads from Shakhtar Donetsk accept some huzzahs: “And for you, Shakhtar, the medal of my love / Will always shine on [the] pitch where you are” (full anthem available here). (AP)

Complicating issues is that only a minority of players for Donetsk and for rivals Dynamo Kiev are Ukrainian (5 of 24 on Donetsk, and 12 of 25 for Kiev)—and most of these are not regulars. In fact, as Franklin Foer writes in his recent book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Ukraine has been especially adept at trolling the world market for footballers, showing fondness for Nigerians—with mixed results (see chap. 6, “How Soccer Explains the Black Carpathians,” 141–66). Foer profiles Edward Anyamkyegh of Karpaty Lviv; Julius Aghahowa, also from Nigeria, plays striker for Shakhtar. Neither seems at home. Says journalist Oleg Racz about Aghahowa:

[Donetsk] is not Kiev or Lviv, which are pretty cosmopolitan now, but a town with coal mine slag heaps and Soviet urban sprawl everywhere. When he first came he couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t settle. …

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