This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.
The Euro 2012 became a genuine festival of people-to-people contacts and cultural exchange in a wider United Europe by taking place in "undiscovered territory" – Ukraine, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev say in an op-ed first published in The Guardian.
Kostiantyn Yelisieiev is ambassador of Ukraine to the EU.
"Lesson 1: what the EU media writes or says about Ukraine is not always true
On the eve of the tournament there was a plethora of negative, prejudged information about Ukraine. My country was labelled a nation of racists, xenophobes and prostitutes. Of course, it is possible to find traces of racism in any country if is one really wants to, and Ukraine is no exception.
But in reality, the world has seen wonderful images of Ukrainian fans supporting their team without any aggression just like other Europeans and, in spite of the negative campaign in the Western media, Ukraine warmly welcoming foreign fans. One only has to ask the Swedes, Germans or Dutch who have filled our streets, enjoying traditional Ukrainian hospitality.
Even English fans, who were urged by former national team defender Sol Campbell not to travel to Ukraine, because of fears of "coming back in a coffin" have been amazed by the warmth of the reception they have received. Still, in response to his warning, a coffin was carried through the streets of Donetsk with the slogan "You were wrong, Campbell" written on it.
Lesson 2: the decision to hold Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine was right
This choice was not an easy one, but brave and forward-looking. It proved to be justified. On one hand, the relevant preparations boosted development of infrastructure in Poland and Ukraine, while on the other, Ukraine and Poland have been "reopened" by the ordinary citizens of key EU member states.
The tournament has become a genuine festival of people-to-people contacts and cultural exchange in a wider United Europe, by taking place in "undiscovered territory". Isn't this a quintessence of the most important EU policies and values?
Lesson 3: politics should not interfere with sports
I believe that the majority of ordinary fans representing EU member states would agree that officials choosing to boycott the Ukrainian part of Euro 2012 are only punishing themselves. I have been there and the emotions I felt were unforgettable.
Euro 2012 has united Ukraine, restoring a strong sense of pride in the Ukrainian identity and lit up the country. Your presence or absence did not influence this. To their credit and benefit, ordinary EU citizens have shown wisdom coming to Ukraine, thereby turning their leaders' political boycott into self-isolation.
Lesson 4: power lies in solidarity
It came to my mind that the performance of the Greek national team is a shining example of solidarity, team spirit, strong will and aspiration overcoming a hostile environment of reality in search of success. Such an approach should inspire the EU in its search for a way out of the current crisis it is facing, as well as European nations in transition, aspiring for eventual membership.
Lesson 5: officials sometimes make mistakes
It is a pity that the Ukrainian team early went out the competition. Of course there are different points of view over the disallowed goal of Marco Devich, yet clearly it would have dramatically changed the course of the game, making the quarter-final dream a reality.
Yet from this we can see that even with a high number of officials, mistakes leading to irreversible consequences are still possible. Let us hope that such mistakes will only remain a matter of football.
Here I come to my final conclusion: there has always been a lack of trust in Ukraine. In 2007 no one believed we would be ready for the Euros in 2012. They were wrong. Today no one believes in our capacity to develop political association with the EU in the mid-term.
That is why today, as in 2007, we need brave, forward-looking decisions. We need an adequate dialogue based on mutual trust, where there is no place for outdated instruments such as boycotts. We need the solidarity of the EU multiplied by the aspirations of Ukraine, in order to build our common future.
We should avoid geopolitical mistakes which may be more painful and dramatic than a single disallowed goal in a decisive football game."