Ukraine begins PR fightback as criticism of Euro 2012 grows
'It's not all bad here' say Ukrainians, and just wait until Russia hosts the World Cup
EURO 2012 is in danger of turning into a "full-blown PR disaster" for Ukraine, says The Guardian, after a damning BBC Panorama documentary raised fears about racists and hooligans in the country.
In the show former England defender Sol Campbell urged England fans not to travel to eastern Europe, warning they could come back "in a coffin".
But the BBC claims are just the latest blow to the Euro 2012 co-host, which already faces a political boycott over its treatment of jailed former president, Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been beaten while in custody.
Uefa president Michel Platini has complained about hotel prices and accused "crooks and bandits" of muscling in on the event. And last week Ukrainian security was sidestepped by topless women's rights activists who managed to get their hands on the trophy itself while protesting about prostitution and sex trafficking in the country.
Earlier this month Ukraine's first Gay Pride march was cancelled because of threats of violence and the organiser was beaten up.
But with days to go before the tournament begins there are signs that the country is mobilising itself in a late attempt to persuade the rest of Europe that it is not a racist, authoritarian, intolerant and crooked hell-hole.
Last week English language website KyivPost said: "Ukraine's problems, so graphically chronicled for the world to see, have been exaggerated in some instances by its own officials, foreign journalists and even regular citizens."
It called for citizens to make an effort and predicted: "Most foreign tourists, especially first-time visitors, are likely to be pleasantly surprised."
Legendary Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko has also defended his homeland in an interview with the BBC to be shown next week. "We don't have a real problem here about racism," he said. "The country's very quiet and people are very friendly."
Former Arsenal defender Oleg Luzhny added that he had "never heard" of racism in the country.
Meanwhile Ukrainian football journalist Yuri Bender, whose wife is black, said he had not experienced racism and dismissed the coverage as "sensationalist".
But the Euro 2012 experience could offer England fans a taste of things to come notes the Guardian. "For all its democratic shortcomings, Ukraine is more plural and arguably less racist than its mighty neighbour Russia, which persuaded Fifa to award it the 2018 World Cup." ·