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7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope


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28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidans three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the countrys stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.

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Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.

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Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.

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My Kyiv

The Suave and Debonair Ambassador

Leigh Turner arrived in Kyiv as the British Ambassador to Ukraine a little over two years ago, and since then hes made quite an impact on the diplomatic and social scene. The life of an ambassador might seem like a good one, attending all those functions (which one would think would actually become rather tiresome), but theres a lot of hard graft involved (if attending all the functions isnt), especially when youre the ambassador to a country finding its democratic feet.

When did you arrive in Ukraine to take your position and what were you first impressions?
I was lucky enough to arrive on 14 June 2008, which was the day Paul McCartney played his big concert on Maidan in the pouring rain. I arrived at the airport that afternoon and then went to see Paul McCartney, so it was a great and memorable start. I was in Moscow from 1992 to 1995 so I already had some experience with the former Soviet UNI0N. Arriving in Ukraine it was clear, as the famous book title says, Ukraine is not Russia. Its a very different place with different vibes and a different feel. Ive been struck throughout my time here by the dynamism of Ukraine and the potential of the country, but I am also very aware that a lot still needs to be done.

You say Ukraine is different from Russia. What differences do you see?
Its quite well known that Ukraine is a leader in democracy in the region. The media scene here, of which Whats On is a part, is lively and much less constrained than in other parts of the region. Weve had a series of elections in Ukraine which have been observed by the OSCE and ODIHR, which have been recognised as meeting, in the main part, the requirements of these bodies, and have been free and fair. All that is to Ukraines credit.

You mention press freedoms, and there have been a lot of reports about restrictions being imposed upon the press since the new government came to power. Does the British Government have any concerns about this?
Its important that we all continue to monitor closely whats going on in Ukraine. The president has made it clear he attaches great importance to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Its very good to hear that, but at the same time, we all know weve got to see it on the ground, and thats going to be very important over the coming months. Its also important to bear in mind that conditions for EU membership include the so-called Copenhagen criteria, which state that there must be stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities. That is fundamental if Ukraines wish to move closer to the EU is to be realised. I am sure the Ukrainian government and President Yanukovych are well aware of this. 

Its a little difficult to tell exactly what direction the current government wishes to take: whether indeed it wants to move closer to the EU, or whether it would rather move closer to Russia. What is your opinion?
In the first place, this is not a zero sum game. Were not saying that for Ukraine to move closer to Europe it must in someway not be friendly with Russia. I am sure President Yanukovych and the government are keen to follow Ukrainian national interests, as is right and proper. We would certainly see Ukraines national interests being best served by moving closer to the EU. I think most Ukrainian people would also see this as being in Ukraines long-term interests. If you ask most Ukrainians if they wished their country was more like those in Europe, they will all say, Yes please. So it seems to me that the direction of travel is pretty clear. At the same time, you have to do a lot of work to get good results. Were in the middle of some very important negotiations between the EU and Ukraine. On the one hand, there are some elements of those negotiations, for example agricultural tariffs and tariffs on cars, which are going to be very tough to resolve, but there are many other areas where enormous progress is being made on a day-by-day basis. 

The EU seems to be quite divided when it comes to Ukraines membership: some countries are very supportive, and others appear to be strongly against. Where does the British Government stand on this issue?
The British Government has long been a strong supporter of Ukraines European integration ambitions and that includes giving Ukraine a membership perspective, which is Euro-jargon for saying you will join the EU when youre ready. Clearly, thats not going to happen tomorrow. Ukraine needs to do a lot of work to become ready. The EU is a rules-based organisation whose membership involves giving up a certain degree of sovereignty, and its rules are binding. So that means when a country is signing up to EU commitments it has to be quite clear what it is agreeing to. Getting ready to join the EU, for example, in the area of agricultural food standards, requires a lot of hard work. So it cant happen over night. At the same time youre right, different countries within the EU have different views on its long-term future: some are more in favour of widening the UNI0N while others would prefer to deepen the UNI0N. Ukraine has to persuade all of these countries that it is in the interest of the EU and its members for Ukraine to become a member in due course. The UK is already convinced of that, but not all member countries are so sure.

Recently Foreign Minister Hryshenko met with top EU officials and said that visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Europe was high on the agenda. Do you think this is something that will happen soon?
This is something that is the subject of active negotiations between Ukraine and the EU. I think its realistic for Ukraine first to look for visa facilitation, which makes obtaining visas easier, and then in the longer term it should look to meeting the conditions that will allow visa-free travel. It is important to recognise that within countries of the EU there is a lively debate about immigration. For example, there has been a lot of discussion in the British press recently about a home office study that showed that twenty percent of the people that had come to the UK on student visas were still living there after five years. So there is a balance to be struck between the wishes of everyone to facilitate travel nobody likes visa regimes as they certainly dont make any money for anyone and are a profound nuisance for travellers of every kind and safeguarding the legitimate wishes of people who want to make sure their own livelihoods are not threatened by uncontrolled immigration.

So it sounds as if visa-free travel for Ukrainians is still some way in the future. Would you agree?
I think there will have to be tough negotiations about visa-free travel in order to make it possible, and that will need to reflect the interests of both sides. Everyone is realistic in this debate. They know there are immigration pressures from some countries into the EU. At the same time, the EU has a clear list of requirements that controls, for example, how many passports people can get. We have a constant issue with the fact that there are far more Ukrainians with diplomatic passports than British citizens. There are lots of detailed issues that need to be addressed, but once those issues are addressed it will be possible to make progress.

The visa process has been made easier, but there are still many people getting rejected for visas. Do you have any advice for people applying for a visa to the UK?
Yes, I have several pieces of advice. First of all, I am very proud of our visa section and the work it does. They work under a lot of pressure and I think in general the work they do is very good. Weve done a lot of work to try and improve things, for example, getting rid of queues outside the visa section by taking bookings online. So, what should you do if you want to visit the UK for the first time? First of all, you should leave yourself plenty of time. I wrote a blog about this:
http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/turnerenglish/entry/uk_visas_apply_in_good
And I would encourage Whats On readers to look at that as theres a lot of practical advice in there. The second thing is that there is quite detailed advice on the website about how exactly to apply. People are invited to give certain types of information. There are ten categories of which six are mandatory, and I would ask everyone to give the maximum information to increase their chances of getting their visa approved without trouble. In particular, the visa officials are very keen to see evidence of your financial status, which preferably means bank details.

That can often be a problem for Ukrainians because many of them dont use banks.
Yes, well that is going to make it more difficult for them to get a visa, because the visa officials need to know applicants are sound financially. I would also add that people should not provide false documents. We get a steady stream of false documents, and our officials are trained to spot them. We will always try and corroborate documents and if they are found to be false the applicant will receive a mandatory ten-year ban. Please do not be tempted to use false documents.

What cooperation, economically or culturally, is currently taking place between the Ukrainian and British Governments?
There are a lot of areas where we do day-to-day cooperation with the government and Ukrainian society in general. For example, on trade and investment, Britain is the sixth largest investor in Ukraine with a stock of inward investment of around $2.4 billion from the UK, and thats creating real jobs for Ukraine and Ukrainian people. There is a recent example of a large British bank which is setting up a state-of-the-art technical support centre here in Ukraine using highly qualified Ukrainian IT specialists. This isnt a call centre, this is people who know how to construct complex computer software systems. It will employ hundreds of these people, and they are recruiting them now to work here in Kyiv supporting the operations of the bank around the world. This is a good example of how our countries can work together. We are also, as an embassy, organising a major exhibition that will take place in December to promote UK companies that are active here in Ukraine. In other areas were active with the Ukrainian government in supporting economic development and their European integration aspirations. A third area I will mention briefly is defence cooperation. In 2009 for example, the British Ministry of Defence supported fifty different projects in Ukraine, to help develop the Ukrainian armed forces, which included training, English language schools for officers and joint exercises.

Regarding British companies investing in Ukraine, there is a big question about rule of law here in Ukraine. Do you get a lot of complaints from British companies about things like corporate raiding or contract disputes?
We have a commercial section here at the embassy. Part of their job is to promote British exports and to help stimulate inward investment from Ukraine to the UK as well as the other way round. It often happens that British businessmen come to us and say they have a problem. Were always here to help, and weve been involved in a number of cases where weve intervened with different agencies or individuals in order to try and unblock difficulties. I do talk a great deal to British investors who are already here, ones who are considering coming here, and ones who have looked at the market and decided against it. What kind of problems do we see here? There is undoubtedly a problem with the ease of doing business in Ukraine. The latest issue of the Ease of Doing Business index from the World Bank places Ukraine at position 143 out of 186 countries. If you look at the countries around the 143 position, theyre not the kind of countries, I would guess, most Ukrainians would want to be associated with. The Ukrainian government and the president have said repeatedly that they wish to take action on over regulation and to cut back on corruption. I welcome them saying that, but its very important those statements are followed up by action on the ground. It will be very tough and will take time to make progress. Ive heard there is a package of legislation coming forward aimed at combating corruption. I hope that is correct, and that it will be enforced vigorously.

It often seems that local businessman and politicians dont like the idea of inward investment because they see it as taking something that could be theirs. Do you come across that a lot?
There is in every country a tension between the interests of the business elite and the interests of the country as a whole. That applies in Ukraine as well as everywhere else. I think the leadership of Ukraine needs to take a clear view on whether it is indeed welcoming inward investment because that is good for Ukraine as a country, or whether it is only going to protect the interests of big business groups who do not always welcome more competition. 

One thing one often hears here when talking about corruption is that corruption is everywhere. There have been some rather embarrassing stories in the last few months about corruption in the UK government. How do you feel corruption in the UK compares to corruption in Ukraine?
There is of course an argument that it is in human nature to better oneself in any way one can if there are no rules to prevent it. So of course, no country can claim it is entirely free from corruption. However, if you look at it objectively it is quite clear that the instances of corruption individual citizens experience are much greater in some countries than in others. And there are some very simple things that can be done to help this. For example, in the UK there are no fines levied by the police. There are no circumstances in the UK when a policeman can ask you for money there are no on-the-spot fines. That removes one possible area for corruption, which I would argue is a good thing. And it is a good model other countries could look at.

Finally, our readers would like to know what you do in your spare time, and where you like to do it.
I am very privileged in that I have a job that often involves evening activities such as attending functions. That takes up a lot of what would otherwise be my free time. Having said that, I greatly enjoy walking. I walk around Kyiv at great length at the weekend and often walk to and from work if the weather is reasonable. I have some Ukrainian friends and expatriate friends with whom I spend time, which is always enjoyable. I like to go down to the beaches sometime, and Im not afraid of putting my foot in the Dnipro. I also do quite a bit of writing in my spare time, which is a hobby of mine.

Neil Campbell

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Comments (2)
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Coltin | 19.09.2011 04:53

If my problem was a Death Star, this article is a phootn torpedo.


 
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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didnt Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they dont understand the meaning of these words.


    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades childrens favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. Whats On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.

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