Tommy Martin: It has recently become apparent how much I love Ukraine

What’s that? You think this dramatic conversion to the Ukrainian cause is because of who they are playing on Saturday night? How dare you...
Tommy Martin: It has recently become apparent how much I love Ukraine

Ukraine's Artem Dovbyk (left) celebrates scoring their winner against Sweden at Hampden Park. 

“Ukraine’s glory, Ukraine’s freedom did not disappear, Fate will smile on us Ukrainians, our skies will be clear…”

Oh sorry, you’ve caught me singing my new favourite song, the national anthem of Ukraine. It’s called ‘State Anthem of Ukraine’. Don’t get freaked out, we do that sometimes, us Ukrainophiles — burst out into ‘State Anthem of Ukraine’ for no reason.

In recent days, I have found myself overcome with a sudden appreciation for this wonderful nation, which sweeps from the snow-capped Carpathians, across fertile Steppes to the mineral-rich Donbass region, along the banks of the mighty Dnieper as it rolls through historic Kiev into the Black Sea.

What’s that? They’ve made the quarter-finals of Euro 2020? Well, I’ll certainly be cheering them on then. Who are they playing? England? Are they any good?

Anyway, that’s beside the point. It has, only very recently, become apparent how much I love Ukraine. How could you not? This, after all, is the country that gave us everyone from Leon Trotsky to Milla Jovovich, from Sergei Prokofiev to Wladimir Klitschko. It’s the home of the Cossacks, a fiercely independent ethnic group with a proud military history, now sadly better known for dancing energetically in loose-fitting trousers.

Ukraine is so great that Vladimir Putin nipped in and took a chunk of it. That’s right, Ukraine has its own contested territory, Crimea, just like us! All the more reason to support them.

Yes, Ukraine also has a big neighbour with a history of being a little bit grabby. Mind you, England has really changed its ways on that front. Back in the 19th century, it used to wade into all sorts of random places. Like Crimea, for example.

No, these days England is doing much better. In fact, it is actively trying to hand stuff back. Immigrants, trade deals ... Scotland, maybe. Definitely Northern Ireland — now there’s a case of buyer’s remorse if ever there was one! They could do without London, if they were honest. If they had their way, England would just be a service station off the M25, run by Clive and Janet, where you’d get a free Jetwash with every tank of petrol.

But why are we talking about England? This is nothing to do with them. It’s about this overwhelming affection for Ukraine that struck us at, oh, about 10.30pm on Tuesday night.

Frankly, it’s about time we showed some appreciation for the Bread Basket of Europe, whose arable plains have kept us supplied with the grain for our sliced pan. Whether you like Weetabix or the humble Waterford Blaa, it’s long overdue to get behind Andriy Shevchenko’s men. Unless you are gluten intolerant, of course.

Our love for Ukraine is new-found, admittedly, but from ballet dancers to boxers, Bolsheviks and beyond, they have been making their mark for centuries. We are talking about the homeland of Mila Kunis and Leonid Brezhnev here. Great writers like Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Conrad.

Jack Palance, legendary Hollywood actor? Born Volodymyr Palahniuk. Ukrainian!

You know what, I feel another verse of ‘State Anthem of Ukraine’ coming on.

Remember Sergey Bubka? He was so good at the pole vault, that throughout the 1980s he would go around big athletics meetings picking up cheques for breaking the world record, one centimetre at a time.

One night in Rome in 1984, a French rival busted in on the action and broke the record. Bubka sighed, picked up his pole and broke it back. Counting indoor and outdoor, he broke the world record 35 times.

Bubka? Ukrainian!

And we haven’t even mentioned football. There’s a reason why Russia has largely stunk the place out in football since Ukrainian independence — they don’t have any Ukrainians. The last great Soviet team, which lost the 1988 European Championship final to the Netherlands, featured no fewer than eight players from Dynamo Kiev. They were managed by the great Valery Lobanovksy, whose groundbreaking use of sports science and pressing arguably set the template for modern football. Hardly surprising — he was, of course, Ukrainian.

OK, so the current generation of players are not in the class of Igor Belanov, Oleg Blokhin, or Vasily Rats, nor indeed their legendary manager, Shevchenko. But this Ukrainian team would be worth supporting alone for the magical waft of Andriy Yarmolenko’s left foot, which he deploys occasionally after wandering in lazily from the right wing, where he prefers to spend most of his time dreamily pondering the works of Nikolai Gogol (Ukrainian, naturally).

What’s that? You think this dramatic conversion to the Ukrainian cause is because of who they are playing on Saturday night? How dare you. I have nothing against England. It was lovely to see them celebrate their win over Germany. I had no idea it was such a big deal!

And their fans? Charming bunch. The bucket hats and tattoos. That is a great look. That thing they do where they look angry even when they are happy? Love that. I actually recognised some of them from tournaments past, though they looked different not surrounded by flying patio furniture and riot police.

Some people think England winning the tournament would help ‘bring the nation together’. They might be right. Nigel Farage singing ‘It’s Coming Home’ would be a wonderful unifying moment. But they forget that England is the home of the sitcom, of Basil Fawlty, Norman Stanley Fletcher, and Del Boy Trotter. The golden rule of sitcoms is that nothing ever changes, the characters must always return to how they started the episode — dreaming, resentful, and stuck.

Ukraine, though. Now there’s a country. Something about that blue and yellow, it gets me every time. For, ooh, at least the last two days anyway.

So, all together now...

“Ukraine’s glory, Ukraine’s freedom...” Damn, that song is catchy.

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