As the Euro 2012 euphoria settles, many are assessing the legacy of the football championship co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland last month.
One of the most overlooked costs, however, is the deadly price that the country paid for the three-week party. At least six people died and two were seriously injured while building two of the nation’s fanciest and most expensive stadiums – Olympic in Kyiv and Donbass in Donetsk.
For Tetyana Samoiluk, Euro 2012 was not a joy, but a reminder of her tragedy.
Samoiluk is from the small village of Kamyanka in Khmelnytsky Oblast. Her husband Serhiy was killed building Olympic Stadium. Now, two years after his tragic death, she still cannot speak about what happened without tears.
“I got a call Wednesday morning. A man from the construction company where my husband worked told me there was an accident the day before and my husband was crushed by a concrete panel. The next day they brought his body home,” Samoiluk said with a trembling voice.
On April 20, Serhiy Samoiluk and 29-year-old co-worker Ihor Biba were removing a concrete panel on the site when it fell, fatally crushing Samoiluk and seriously injuring Biba. This was the first tragic incident at Olympic Stadium, a grand construction that cost the state budget Hr 4.6 billion ($575 million).
Two years afterwards, the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv found the foreman of the construction company guilty of neglecting safety rules at the site. He was fired but escaped with a suspended sentence.
Workers who built the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv blame lax safety.
Stepan, one of the workers who witnessed the fatal accidents that claimed the lives of Samoiluk and injured Biba, says it was normal for workers not to wear safety straps.
“There were no straps, not even enough hard hats. There were lifting machines that were supposed to be used for height works, but they were not used. The workers were told to make wooden scaffold platforms instead. These things are very shaky and dangerous,” says Stepan, who didn’t want his surname published because he fears conflict with his employers.
A dozen construction workers with whom the Kyiv Post spoke said safety improved after the tragedy that claimed Samoiluk’s life and left Biba in critical condition.
However, this did not prevent more accidents that left people dead or injured.
The prosecutor declined to reveal names of the other victims, citing confidentiality of personal information. But the construction workers’ trade union shared names of the victims and details.
37-year-old Olexandr Ponyaev from Dnipropetrosvk Oblast, who died on Aug. 1, 2010, when he fell from the second level of a stadium tribune;
Pavlo Koval, a 51-year-old worker, died on Oct. 19, 2011, when he was crushed by a concrete panel;
Andriy Pirogov, a 29-year old, died on May 31, 2011 after he fell from a height of eight meters;
An unnamed man was badly injured on Oct. 8, 2010; and Another unnamed man was killed on Jan. 23, 2012.
Another person, also unnamed, was electrocuted, but the prosecutor did not open a criminal case since the investigation found that the incident was the worker’s fault.
But in all other cases, prosecutors blamed loose safety regulations on the construction site. Three cases are already ruled on by the court and several foremen found guilty. They were fired and received suspended sentences.
Donbass Arena, a gleaming stadium in the eastern city of Donetsk, also claimed one life. An unnamed construction worker died while installing windows there in 2008. This brought the death toll of Ukraine’s preparation for Euro 2012 to six lives, compared to two in neighboring Poland, which co-hosted the championship.
However, construction workers say the real number might be even higher.
Vasyl Andreyev, head of the all-Ukraine trade union of construction workers, says he has unofficial information of eight deaths at Olympic Stadium.
“However, we do not have enough evidence to confirm it. But what we learned from our sources is that in some cases officials did not register the deaths and let the construction company bring out the body quietly, since most people work at the site unofficially anyway,” says Andreyev.
The Kyiv prosecutor denies allegations and claims all cases were investigated.
“All people who died [at Olympic] were officially employed,” said Myroslava Mushka, spokesperson for the Kyiv city prosecutor.
The stadium that hosted the Euro 2012 final, attended by 70,000 football fans from around the world, became the subject of controversy after tales of unpaid wages, poor working conditions, corruption and deaths emerged.
Dozens of construction workers who built the fancy stadium are still demanding pay and protesting outside the city prosecutor’s office in Kyiv, demanding action. Most of them, however, were employed unofficially, which makes it hard for them to take legal action.
Experts say that because many subcontractors were trying to save as much money as possible, they often hired unprofessional workers.
“These are usually poor men from villages around the country,” says Vitaliy Manchuk, head of the Kyiv construction workers trade union.
Since her husband died, Tetyana Samoiluk has been receiving a couple thousand hryvnias every month in insurance from the state.
“There is no job in the village and I work occasionally, as a cleaning lady, cook, or anything I can find,” she says.
She adds this will not be enough, since her daughter is going to college this year to study to be a lawyer.