Ukraine minister hosts fans affected by hotel cancellation
Kiev residents offering sofas, rooms for free as some hotels seek to capitalise on Champions League final
When Julie Pierson and her companion Jorge Ramirez had their apartment reservation for the Champions League final in Kiev cancelled, they did not expect to end up being hosted by a minister.
But when the Real Madrid supporters from Luxembourg arrived for the big match with Liverpool, it was Information Minister Yuriy Stets and his wife Yana Konotop, a Ukrainian TV presenter, who laid out the welcoming mat.
The Ukrainian capital has witnessed a mini accommodation crisis in the run-up to the biggest match in club football, with some hotels charging nearly 100 times their normal rates.
Some fans who thought they were playing it safe by making inexpensive reservations well in advance ended up having their bookings annulled by hotels looking for a quick profit.
Grigoriy Surkis, vice president of the European football governing body Uefa and a Ukrainian national, told AFP he was “furious” with how things turned out.
In the face of scandal, Kiev residents have started offering their sofas, spare rooms and even apartment for free – a vast solidarity movement launched through social media.
“When these extraordinary prices hikes started, we became very ashamed... and decided to help out the best way we could,” said Konotop, 38, dressed like her husband in a white Madrid shirt.
Stets said he just had a key condition: “Only if they are Real Madrid fans.”
Their guests had first booked an apartment through Airbnb, the global rental platform.
Like many others, they saw their booking annulled and hotels, with their exorbitant prices, were not an option.
“I was desperate,” Jorge, 34, exclaimed.
Vodka and ham
Finally, they found a place to stay through Facebook, where people were offering lovers of the beautiful game accommodations under the hashtag#FreeKyivCouch4Fans.
A group called “Kyiv FREE couch for football fans” had nearly 9,000 members by Friday.
“We received at least three offers,” Jorge said with a smile.
“I had a hard time believing something like that was possible,” said Julie, 32.
“Plus, when it’s a minister... It seemed very unlikely. But in the end, it was true. We were lucky!”
On the other bank of the Dnipro River which splits the city, travel agency co-owner Mikhailo Kalenskiy, 42, has been waiting for his British guest Daren Oldring, who works in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Ham, vegetables, lard – the ubiquitous Ukrainian delicacy – and the inevitable bottle of vodka all waited Daren, a shaven-headed 50-something Liverpool supporter.
His hotel reservation was cancelled in May, shortly before the hotel jacked up its prices for a room from U$42 (S$65.7) to US$1,400 a night.
Daren ended up posting a hosting request on Facebook. Within minutes, Mikhailo had sent back a message, and a few moments later, Daren had a place to stay.
“This is the first time I’ve come to a complete stranger’s house,” said Daren, who has supported Liverpool since the 1970s.
Daren said the experience may prompt him to open up his own home to needy travellers in return.
“It’s a great thing to do,” he said.
Some locals like Andriy, a 34-year-old businessman who is hosting a Liverpool fan in his office, said the expression of good will by the locals will undo the “crazy expanding ‘greedy’ trend”.
“The number of housing offers has dramatically exceeded the number of requests,” said Andriy.
Despite this solidarity, hundreds of supporters have still thrown in the towel: Real said around 1,000 of its fans have handed back their tickets because of the price hikes.
Meanwhile, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said on Friday he was “working really hard” to help football fans who face missing the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Kiev due to a flights fiasco.
Around 1,000 fans were left stranded when operator Worldchoice Sports cancelled three flights because it did not have sufficient landing slots at Boryspil Airport in Kiev.
Anderson said he was working with Kiev’s mayor – former world heavyweight champion boxer Vitali Klitschko – to find a solution for all those who face missing out.
In a video posted on Twitter on Friday, he said: “We’ve had more discussions this morning with Mayor Klitschko and also the director of the airport.
“Now they’re trying to do a couple of things for us – they’re trying to look and see if we can use an airport nearby either to get an Airbus in there or some smaller crafts either today or tomorrow.”
Worldchoice Sports on Thursday cancelled three flights to the Ukrainian capital because it had been unable to secure landing slots.
The company repeated its apology on its Twitter account on Friday.
Financial adviser Jason McGimpsey was told on Thursday his flight was cancelled.
He told Britain’s Press Association: “Worldchoice Sports had been stalling on giving us e-tickets and exact departure times and it’s become clear why that was the case, now finally they’ve said ‘we’ve cancelled it’.”
“I’ve been offered a refund but it doesn’t go anywhere near compensating me for what I’ve lost,” he added.
Chris Bolland, who has supported Liverpool for 50 years, will have to watch the game from home.
“I am gutted, to say the least. I am absolutely disgusted and there is nothing I can do about it,” he told the BBC.
“I will now have to watch it with my dear wife – but that’s not a problem as she’s a big Liverpool fan as well.” – AFP