Tournament Hosts Dream Big Young Poles and Ukrainians Have High Hopes for Euro 2012

As the 2012 European Football Championship kicks off, all eyes are on the event's co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine. It's the first such event to take place in Eastern Europe, and young Poles and Ukrainians alike hope it will help improve perceptions of their countries. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with them about patriotism, politics and the future.

Those venturing into a certain interior courtyard on Kiev's Vladimirskaya Street are likely to feel a bit like time travelers. The backward world of the Ukrainian capital, with its corrupt apparatchiks, unscrupulous oligarchs and headline-making human rights abuses, is left behind. Inside, they find a hip café that could just as easily be in Berlin or Stockholm.

The owners call their establishment a "free space," and guests here don't pay for Internet, food and drinks, but for the amount of time they spend lounging on the Ikea furniture. It is called the "Clockface," and it is a meeting place for many young Ukrainians.

They are a generation that grew up in an independent Ukraine, and they have few memories of the Soviet Union, orienting themselves toward Europe instead. "My parents still feel tied to Russia," says 21-year-old Alina Beskrovna, who studies mathematics at a university in Kiev. "But I feel like a European."

Some 760 kilometers (470 miles) west of here is the Polish capital of Warsaw. At the University of Warsaw, the idea of Europe has long since become ingrained in the minds of students. They didn't experience communist Poland, having grown up after the 1989 transformation that took place in their country. The Polish youth seem like pragmatic and self-confident members of the European Union.

Hardly any other country is as Europe-friendly as Poland. Young people, in particular, understand that they have profited from joining the EU. They feel membership offers them big opportunities, many of them professionally. And many can imagine spending a few years working abroad in Germany or Great Britain.

The 2012 European Football Championship kicks off on Friday, June 8 in both Kiev and Warsaw, the capital cities of co-hosts Ukraine and Poland. It's a big day for the countries' young people, and SPIEGEL ONLINE went out to discuss their expectations for the three-week-long summer event. We asked them about their thoughts on Europe, politics, and what they dream of for the future.

Read what they had to say in the interactive graphic above.

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