“Do you think that’s wise?” Was the first reaction of one of my colleagues when I said I was travelling to Kyiv in late September. The Ukrainian capital is around 400 miles from the nearest fighting and flights go nowhere near any Russian missiles. Landing at Borispil seems no different from any other modern European airport – the old Soviet terminal has gone; now replaced by a modern glass and steel structure.
Passport control is much easier now with EU citizens, who do not need visas, waved through the same checks as Ukrainian nationals while others have to fill in forms and queue. There are no signs that the country is at war on the journey into Kyiv; the wide four-lane motorway lined with flower filled hanging baskets every few hundred yards. The city itself has changed since I first visited eight years ago and in the centre the shops and pavement cafés could easily be in Rome or Paris were it not for all the Cyrillic letters on the signs. In the Underground, where once the signs and announcements had been in Russian they are now in Ukrainian and English; the trolley buses and restaurant menus have become similarly bi-lingual and most media outlets have English websites. There seems to be free wi-fi almost everywhere.
I am not sure what impression they get of Britain from the imported TV programmes; with endless re-runs of Midsomer Murders, Morse and Agatha Christie they could be forgiven for thinking that we have homicidal tendencies! They do have a much higher regard for our politicians than for their own and think us fortunate in having elections where only genuine votes cast are actually counted. Although when I see the line of Mercedes limos outside the Miska Rada, (City Hall), I wonder if I am in the wrong job!
I found only loathing and contempt for those who want closer ties with Russia and any lingering sympathy for that country has been extinguished by the cynically denied campaign of murder and pillage its proxies have conducted in the Crimean, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Closer links with the West and eventual EU/NATO membership are wanted especially by the young, anyone in business and the many who have travelled in Europe and who do not recognise its depiction in Russian propaganda. Indeed it is difficult to see an alternative to the country’s integration into Europe where its educated workforce and growing enterprise should see it on a path to future prosperity. Perhaps there are those who are nostalgic for some Soviet golden age which never existed but any attempt to recreate a better past is likely to leave them drinking vodka and eating cabbage soup.
7/xi/14First published by the Barnsley Chronicle – Penistone Living – November 2014