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The Other Path to Victory

Report on site visit to Kiev, Ukraine

21 October 2009 - 
The Ukrainian Dragon Boat Federation bid to hold the 9th European Club Crew Championships in 2011. Although Ukraine hasnt held a European or regional championship before, the EDBF AGA provisionally awarded the bid to Ukraine, giving the Ukrainian DBF a sign of good faith and time to prepare a more in-depth plan for the championships. As part of the process leading up to the championship, the EDBF sent a delegation to Kiev to visit the Golden Dragon Festival on 12 September and inspect the proposed venue.

Ukraine is looking west for the 9th EDBF European Club Crew Championships or to be more exact - a bit northwest of Kiev. With a change in their proposed venue from the aging but adequately-appointed water sport center in Kiev to a newly-built yacht harbor in a modern development near the banks of the Dnieper, the site is reminiscent of the location of this years ECCC in Budapest.

Proposed regatta course on an arm of the Dnieper.
Proposed regatta course on an arm of the Dnieper.
The newly proposed regatta venue is in a chic residential development on a deep, quiet inlet of the Dnieper. Unlike the course in Budapest which is built in an area designated for business & recreation, the area surrounding the yacht harbor is mostly residential, but amply packed with new restaurants and shops.

The site visit commission, composed of Bridget Walter, chair of ComSpec; Alan van Cauubergh, EDBF chair; and myself just returned from Kiev recently. While we were skeptical about the change of venue at first, a visit to the site on a sunny day changed our minds.

The UDBF proposed a change to the original venue for a number of reasons. First, they feared that the regatta course on the sport island would not be available anymore. Secondly, even if they could guarantee that the site could continue to be used, they feared that construction on the site might lead to a similar situation as that encountered in St. Petersburg, with heavy equipment posing a safety issue for the paddlers. Finally, the proud Ukranians were eager to show a more progressive side to Kiev and took an example from Hungary by looking at a newly re-developed area along the banks of a river.

While the new location is not at a purpose-built regatta course, there is plenty in its favor: the surroundings are clean and attractive, the waters are deep (3.5 meters at the shallowest), long (1.7km) and wide, the yacht harbor which would serve as the main location for the event is brand-new, the course is sheltered from the wind and the currents of the Dnieper by a long island and there is a brand new golf and conference center with a driving range run by an American pro-golfer overlooking the water. The new location definitely has potential.

While we were there, there were numerous activities taking place in and along the waters edge. The wide boulevard along the tree-lined upper portion of the waterway was playing host to a display of antique and new fire-fighting equipment while the water served as the battle ground for a water fight between two fire-fighting boats displaying their equipment. Further up the course, we saw the cheerful white sails of the youth sailing school boats and a number of larger sailing and motorized vessels kept to one side of the channel away from the dragon boat races while on their way to the Dnieper. The area also serves as home base for the Kiev Dragon Boat Club.

It seems this part of Kiev has attracted many prosperous young couples and families with its new apartments and variety of specialty restaurants ranging from Japanese to TexMex and from Chinese to traditional Ukrainian. As the sun came out, the boulevard and terraces filled up with people out for a leisurely Saturday afternoon, enjoying an ice cream or a cool glass of wine and a meal. The time to associate Ukraine with communist-era decay is over. The proposed regatta location would have been right at home in any reasonably prosperous city in Europe.

Kiev at night.
Kiev at night.
This isnt to say that all is perfect in Kiev. The city itself is undergoing an enormous re-construction process that has been hampered by the recession; so much of it is dusty and crumbled. There is a still a legacy of neglect and shoddy materials which can be read in the state of the streets and sidewalks. Some of the hotels and restaurants are still coping with the transition from Soviet-era service to a more modern European standard, and the taxi drivers dont speak a word of English. On the other hand, the city has an extensive underground metro service that, according to the UDBF, runs between the hotels and the race course. There were plenty of restaurants and the food is reasonably priced. There is plenty of street life and culture in Kiev, with outdoor concerts, impromptu musicians in the metro halls, cathedrals and parks. Many young people in the city speak English and the restaurants we visited had English menus. Dont bother looking for a Starbucks though - there were none in sight, but there were plenty of other trendy coffee shops offering flavored coffee, irresistible pastry and free wifi!

Ukraine also has the potential to attract some of our members who havent been able to attend EDBF events due to visa restrictions or financial problems. It is easier for some of the former Soviet-block countries to travel to Ukraine than to Western Europe because of its visa policies. The UDBF has also secured permission for a limited number of teams to camp on the island which shelters the race location from the Dnieper, providing a lower-cost option for Ukraines poorer neighbors like Belarus and Moldova.

The site visit commission has asked Oleksandr Bakanychev, president of the Ukraine DBF, to address a number of concerns by the time the AGA rolls around in November. Main concerns still arising are the budget, signed commitments from sponsors and necessary permits, cost & availability of technical equipment, language assistance, a team to deal with registrations and a better range of hotels. We were also concerned that the event we visited was very small and did not demonstrate the full organizational capability of the Ukrainian hosts. Therefore, we have required that the UDBF hold a larger-scale event including international teams next summer (and urge EDBF members to attend to see Kiev for themselves). The commission also made it clear to the aspiring hosts that if we find that the preparations for the championship are not progressing satisfactorily, the EDBF reserves the right to revoke the championship and hold it at a reserve location. Nonetheless, we are largely satisfied by the location and the UDBFs commitment to the championship, and recommend that the AGA confirm the championship award to Ukraine.

For photos & videos of the site, check this Webshots link. You can also find six short video impressions of various areas of the proposed regatta location at YouTube by searching for EDBF site visit: Kiev. You can also view the location on Google Maps.

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