KIEV - Ukrainians and foreigners thronged Kiev's specially designated fanzone for ticketless supporters on Sunday, as the atmosphere built towards the final of Euro 2012 between Spain and Italy. Fans arrived in their hundreds in the morning and the numbers steadily built in the main street of the Ukrainian capital, which has been temporarily transformed into a pedestrian area during the three-week championships in Ukraine and Poland.
Many, though, were supporting neither team, like the head of the municipal authority, Olexandre Popov, who was on hand to inaugurate a car race that started in the morning in the city centre. "I'm not going to be supporting any team in particular. I really like the Spanish and the Italians," he told AFP, as the hours counted down to kick-off.
"What I'm expecting is a good match full of drama because there's not much between the two sides. It'll be individuals who'll decide how the match finishes," said Popov, who will be at the Olympic Stadium alongside other high-ranking officials.
A number of VIPs are expected, including Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Prince Felipe, who boycotted Spain's previous two matches in Ukraine in protest against the fate of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Rajoy's Italian counterpart Mario Monti will also be there, with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and the head of the Hungarian government, Viktor Orban.
The European Union has been calling for several months for the release of former prime minister Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power and has complained of ill-treatment. The EU has called her treatment "selective justice", as parliamentary elections in the ex-Soviet state approach later this year.
A number of presidents from other former Soviet republics are also expected, notably Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko, who is subject to a EU travel ban for human rights abuses in his country. Six militant feminists from the Ukrainian group Femen, who protest bare-breasted, demonstrated in front of the stadium on Sunday and were quickly arrested by police.
"Once more UEFA is showing a total lack of scruples," the all-women group said about the invitation from European football's governing body to Lukashenko, whom the United States has called "Europe's last dictator". In all, the Ukrainian authorities said that up to 500,000 foreigners could descend on Kiev for the end of the tournament, which began on June 8 in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
The competition has passed without any major incident in Ukraine but the authorities are taking no chances for the final and some 7,300 police have been mobilised in the capital. "The experience of the first matches has allowed us to pinpoint any risks but I am always a bit nervous," said Popov. "I will feel 100 percent relaxed when everything is finished and the last tourist has gone home. Then we'll be able to say, 'We've done it'," he added.