Fans Discover Roots Through Kiev

KIEV -- They chant "Ukrayina, Ukrayina" from the terraces and wear brightly embroidered Ukrainian tunics. But underneath the shaggy Cossack fur hats, the flat vowels are pure northern England.

Meet Dynamo Kiev's newest -- and oddest -- fan club.

Half a century after their grandfathers fled the clutches of the Red Army after fighting on the wrong side in World War II, some of Britain's small Ukrainian community are rediscovering their roots through the emergence of post-Soviet Ukraine as an independent soccer power.

"Now, thanks to Dynamo, even those who'd forgotten they were of Ukrainian origin have started reverting to their national identity," said Mykola Yatskiv, 73, as he stood in line at St. James Park to watch the Ukrainian champions take on Newcastle United in the European Champions League.

Yatskiv, who as a young man joined the German SS to fight the Soviets for an independent Ukraine, had brought his son and grandson all the way from Manchester, 210 kilometers away to the game, along with several hundred other Englishmen finding something to cheer about in their eastern heritage.

The young Kiev side lost 2-0 in Newcastle but still went through to a quarter-final tie next March against the mighty Juventus as winners of the Champions' League's "group of death."

"A lot of young Ukrainians, who haven't taken any part in the life of the Ukrainian community for 15 or 20 years, are now at stadiums supporting Dynamo," said British-born Volodymir Muzychko who traveled to Newcastle from London. "They were touched by Ukrainian flags on the international television channels and their national identity was woken up. Some of them have even decided to learn a bit of Ukrainian."

The colorful energy and humor of the English Ukrainians is in marked contrast to the small band of followers who normally follow Dynamo abroad, the black-leather jacketed sports nomenklatura of politicians and Kiev's new capitalists.

The Ukrainian national side, composed mainly of Dynamo players, was taken by surprise the first time they played in Britain by the unexpected local support.

Thousands of exiles flocked to Belfast two years ago to cheer Ukraine to a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier, much to the bemusement of the Ukrainian team.

This year, there they were again, bellowing "Ukrayina" jubilantly from the stands as Dynamo Kiev beat Welsh champions Barry Town 4-0 in a European Cup qualifying round tie.

For some, of course, it is a soccer whimsy. But for many of the 30,000 or so British Ukrainians, tired of decades of explaining that they are not Russian or Soviet, Dynamo's latest success in international soccer means a great deal more.

Some quietly followed the earlier success of the Soviet-era Dynamo Kiev, seeing in that a chance to share a mischievous poke at Moscow.

"Dynamo was the only thing that united Ukrainians living in the West and those living under the Soviets," Muzychko said.

Dynamo Kiev's rivalry with Spartak Moscow, with Kiev edging the Russians 13-12 in Soviet league titles, was long a covert safety valve for Ukrainian nationalism under Communist rule.

"The idea was simple. It was 'OK, maybe we are run by Moscow, but at least we're better at football,'" recalled Kiev political researcher Vyacheslav Pikhovshek.

Or, as London-based Muzychko put it: "In Soviet days, supporting Dynamo meant saying, 'We're not Russians, we're different, we want to be sovereign.'"

"Ukrainians in the West express their support for Ukraine's independence by supporting Dynamo."

The nationalism gaining voice in the success of Dynamo Kiev is a strong trait among British Ukrainians, many of whom fought or are descended from men who fought alongside the Germans for independence after Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Soviet leader Josef Stalin showed no mercy to Soviet citizens who fought the Red Army.

But some of the Ukrainian SS, the Galicia unit, were captured by the Allies on the western front. After two years or more in detention, they were allowed to settle in Britain rather than be returned to certain retribution from Moscow. Many found work in the coal mines of northern England and in Wales.

"We were settled here and had no option of returning," said pensioner Yatskiv. "Some for decades did not even take British citizenship, hoping they would get Ukrainian citizenship once it became independent."

Iindependence finally came when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

"Ukraine was oppressed by Moscow and we felt bad," Yatskiv said. "Now for six years, Ukrainians in the West feel themselves equal to other ethnic communities, which always had their own states."