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'Friendly Ukraine' offering freebies

KIEV, Ukraine --  Tired of seeing their country criticized as greedy and unfriendly, a group of Ukrainians on Monday announced a project to provide free accommodation, translation and other services to foreign football fans attending next month's European Championship.


The Friendly Ukraine initiative unites several Web sites and offers such things as rooms, airport pickups and guided tours to football fans free-of-charge. Organizers say accommodation may be modest, but it will come from the heart and will be free.


"Ukraine is a friendly country, Ukraine is a hospitable country," said program coordinator Viktoria Svitlova. "We are changing the image of the Ukrainian people."


UEFA President Michel Platini has called on the government to stop "bandits and crooks" from ripping off fans with exorbitant accommodation prices. There aren't enough hotel rooms and some fans will have to live in camps and Soviet-era student dormitories.


Critics worry such publicity will damage Ukraine's reputation even as officials hope the championships will attract tourists beyond the sports event.


"Positive reviews of Ukraine are very scarce these days, we want to change that," said Ihor Zavilinsky, whose volunteers will take fans on free city tours and provide translation services.


Euro 2012, jointly held with Poland, begins June 8.


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