Posts Tagged ‘Kyiv’

Hosting UEFA 2012

Hosting UEFA 2012

May 13, 2010  |  Comments Off

Having had the chance to visit both the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv and the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv (variously known as Red Stadium, Stalin Republican Stadium, Nikita Khrushchev Stadium) I have to say they are like chalk and cheese.

The Kharkiv stadium opened in December 2009 and looks ready to host the games. Don’t get me wrong there are significant problems still to tackle; regeneration of the surrounding area, completing the transport infrastructure (though the new airport terminal at Kharkiv looks to be progressing) and the provision of adequate accommodation. In Among the Ukrainians I comment about the apprehension people feel about a repetition of Eurovision 2005 which was hosted by Kyiv. On that occasion, visiting guests had to live in tarpaulin tents because of the lack of hotel rooms. It could still happen in Kharkiv, but the preparations are well underway.

The outlook for Kyiv, on the other hand, is far less rosy. The Olympic Stadium is way behind: major structural work is not finished and concrete is still being poured. Of course, a contingency was built into the development plan and, now that winter is over, work could speed up. But I hear, that as a precaution, there’s a contingency plan to move to a German stadium for the final.

I hope not. The UEFA 2010 slogan is “Creating History Together” and that’s not the sort of history that Ukraine needs. Come on Ukraine!

Reception in kyiv

Reception in kyiv

May 5, 2010  |  Comments Off

Though this blog won’t exclusively be about issues related to my book, it seems appropriate that the first post should be. On Thursday evening I had the pleasure of being invited to the British Ambassador’s residence in Kyiv (along with many other members of the British community in Ukraine) and I used the opportunity to give a copy of my book to Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador Leigh Turner. He was considerably more approachable and down to earth than the grand title might suggest.

I’ve met a number of British ambassadors, and to a man (yes, they were all men) they were all welcoming, engaging, and intelligent characters. In addition, several were entertaining: a rendition of the ballet Swan Lake on the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre by an Ambassador in evening suit, sticks in my mind. The stage of the Bolshoi is unusual in that it is inclined. Whether the Ambassador underestimated this design feature or had a surfeit of alcohol, I do not know, but his attempt at a grand jeté (best described as a petit jeté on that occasion) bore the characteristics of a painful stumble.

British ambassadors do an invaluable job, of that I’m certain. It’s just when the conversation turns to the question of, “What do you do, exactly?” that the flow falters. Perhaps an ambassador’s job description is very brief—to protect British interests, or some such sentence—or extremely wordy, overseeing this, protecting that, engaging with so and so, and seeking to ensure, and so on. I have no idea. But whatever the job description says about entertaining (if it’s mentioned at all) the small, but perfectly formed team that constitutes the Kyiv Embassy staff did a fine job and I thank them.

With the book in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other, I chatted with as many of the attendees as I could, and the response to the book was overwhelming positive. There is so little that has been written about Ukraine that is contemporary, entertaining, eye-opening, and intelligent, that I think Among the Ukrainians really fills a niche.

Vikings and Cossacks

Vikings and Cossacks

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

Seeing a ship larger than a football field and higher than an apartment block docked in Kyiv is a reminder that the Dnipro is a mighty river. Recalling that Kyiv is a thousand kilometres from the Black Sea reinforces the fact.  In Vikings and Cossacks I look at the early history of Ukraine, the settlers from the Baltic who used the Dnipro as a trade route, and the controversy surrounding the origin of the words, Kyivan Rus, Russia, and Ukraine.

I sail down the river to the city of Zaporizhia and to the Cossack fortress on the Island of Khortytsia. There, I’m entertained by modern-day Cossacks and I hear about the first constitution ever written — preceding both the French and the American constitutions by seventy years. Amidst a lively display of Cossack horsemanship, music and dancing we discuss Cossack values and culture, and the true spirit of Ukraine.

Excerpt:

We took seats overlooking the horse arena where Cossacks were practicing their acrobatics, and Stanislav explained why the Cossacks are such a strong symbol of Ukrainian identity.

“The Cossacks tried to establish a way of life that was distinct from the great powers of their day. They held prominence for more than four centuries, and, being descended from the indigenous people and those who passed through the steppe, they symbolize the multiethnic mix of modern Ukraine. They were free-spirited, self-reliant, and not prone to domination. They weren’t displaced people forced to live on the steppe, like some suggest, but they choose to live here because of its beauty and abundance. Nowadays people relate to their values of freedom, equality, and fraternity.”

Fifty metres ahead of us, the Cossack horses trotted slowly into the ring, their calm progress barely hiding the high mettle of their alert eyes, stretched ears, and tensed muscles. The Cossack riders started to rehearse a series of moves not unlike those of a break-dancer one might see on Kyiv’s main streets, falling to the ground, springing up, spinning on their back and shoulder blades. But whereas a break-dancer has the pavement as a platform, the Cossacks have wild animals beneath them.

Feast or Famine

Feast or Famine

March 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

To hide the deaths of many millions of people for fifty years was quite an achievement. More justly, it was an appalling accomplishment which was only possible in a regime such as Communism, and, I should add, with the connivance of governments that choose to turn a blind eye.  But it happened in Ukraine and it is called the Holodomor.

Artists were so terrorised by the regime that it’s believed that only one painted image of the Holodomor exists. Painted by one of Ukraine’s most famous artists, the small canvas hangs in the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris. As an example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, the Holodomor is one of the most shocking examples.

In Feast or Famine I visit a family of bread connoisseurs, as they establish a bakery in one of Kyiv’s swankier shopping malls, to learn all about this staple food and its cultural (and life-giving) importance in Ukraine.

Excerpt:

Polina entered the small space clutching a couple of bags of loaves. Her narrow face was accentuated by her large and somber eyes that were seemingly without pupils.

“Here we go, let’s taste!” she said. Each day she was buying bread from nearby competitors for her father to try. He tore open one of the white loaves and buried his nose in its doughy cleavage.

“Additives!” He exclaimed. “Bread is more important than wine, and it appeals to the senses in the same way. Our wheat produces a hay yellow crumb, and is long in the mouth and rich. It has an intense scent of herbs and a slight acidity. Often the nose has notes of fennel and other herbs. You know, it’s particularly well suited to sourdough baking methods, where small differences in the wheat do not affect the end result, but this has been doctored, probably to increase shelf life.”

He frowned and broke off some crumbs, and examined them like a jeweller might inspect diamonds.

Presidents and the People

Presidents and the People

February 17, 2010  |  Comments Off

Making the Chapter:

It’s hard not to be disappointed at the lack of progress that Ukraine has made in the last twenty years towards a better economy and greater social justice. The expectation was that Ukraine – as the most industrialized and resource-rich country of the former Soviet Union – would be the first to emerge from the rubble of Communism. In Presidents and the People I see this view for what it was: plain wrong. Ukraine was not starting from where everyone thought.

Faced with internal corruption and incompetence, the determination of Russia to return Ukraine to its jurisdiction and the West’s growing ambivalence towards its eastern neighbour, Ukraine has been a political circus. In Presidents and the People I follow the path since independence and look at the expectations of the people, and just what has been achieved, what hasn’t, and what the future holds.

Excerpt:

By most accounts Kuchma started off reasonably well. He brought into positions of influence some of his friends from Dnipropetrovsk, but others did not change, including Viktor Yushchenko, who was head of the National Bank. Having used the coinage of intruders for a millennium — the grosh of Poland and Lithuania, the thalers, ducats, and florins of their western neighbours, and since the eighteenth century, the Russian rouble — it was his responsibility to reintroduce the currency of Kyivan Rus, the Hryvnia (pronounced Grivna).

As it happened, all the former Soviet states introduced a new national currency much sooner than Ukraine, where a lack of local expertise combined with the obfuscation of politicians caused significant delay. With inflation raging, but without the power to print roubles (which was the prerogative of Moscow), Ukraine was forced to adopt a transition currency called the coupon-karbovanets, a sort of monopoly money that bore the brunt of the budget deficit, hyperinflation, and currency devaluation. By the mid-1990s when one million coupon-karbovanets was worth approximately four dollars, Ukraine could rightly say that every citizen was a millionaire.

“I knew I was rich,” remarked one friend. “I would reach across to the gas stove, light a coupon and use it to light my cigarette.”