Great Expectations

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Kyiv two months ago. Would there be tanks rolling down the streets and heavily armed soldiers everywhere? Could I buy groceries or get a decent meal in a restaurant? Heck, I wasn’t even sure I could enter Ukraine when I bought my plane ticket to Warsaw.

Imagine my surprise when I checked into my modern and funky, design hotel in the Podil district of Kyiv, the centre of hipster culture and fine dining. Podil is the old historical centre of trade and commerce and features Kontraktovasquare. It’s also the heart of business and education with the Mohyla Academy, one of the leading universities in Ukraine, sitting right next to a a giant ferris-wheel. Restaurants abound and the food is delicious. Everything from traditional Georgian, Tatar and Ukrainian food to burgers, ramen, pizza and even sushi.

Ukraine is Europe

Ukraine is Europe

Kyiv is a thriving European city complete with historical landmarks, cobblestone streets, electric scooter rentals, ride-sharing apps and food delivery couriers ripping around on their bicycles. Sure, there are almost daily air raid sirens, the roads could use a bit of work and some of the buildings need a paint job. However, I’m willing to cut them some slack since there’s a war raging less than 500 km away, but you’d never know it in the heart of Kyiv. 

My time here has been nothing short of astonishing. It’s been an honour and a privilege to share the spirit and resolve of the Ukrainian people to resist tyranny and rebuild their nation as a better and more equal European country. The people I’ve met have been incredibly warm and open as they share stories of grandparents and parents still living in the occupied territories. Everyday they are reminded of the realities of war when they can’t contact their family for hours because the Internet is down, again. Despite this adversity, they still manage to smile and share memes satirising the Russian occupiers and praising the Ukrainian army.

United they stand

Above all, the Ukrainian people are united in their patriotism, the defence of their homeland, and belief that they will prevail against overwhelming odds. It’s almost impossible to get your hands on a Ukrainian flag, and the street vendors do a booming business selling anti-war t-shirts and anything blue and yellow. Street musicians are everywhere and most of them donate all the money they collect to support the armed forces.

All the unbelievable people working 12-hour shifts a day donate part of their meagre earnings to support the soldiers fighting to give Ukraine the chance to win the war and rebuild. Don’t get me wrong, Ukraine has a lot of systemic problems, with corruption at the top of the list. In 2021 they ranked 122nd of 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index. However, the war has actually given the people a chance to change all that. 

The future of Ukraine is in the hands of the armed forces and the young people in the cities. Ukrainian soldiers who until recently were cab drivers, opera singers and IT workers, are overwhelmed by happy citizens in liberated towns and villages across the country who greet them with hugs, tears, bread and even watermelons. Young people in Kyiv, Lviv and Invano-Frankivsk are prouder than ever to be Ukrainian. They are confident they will prevail, and a new Ukraine will rise from the ashes as a stronger, less corrupt and more prosperous European nation. Indeed, if the government doesn’t tackle corruption, the people will elect a new administration who will. That’s real democracy in action.

The Ukrainian people are 100% united in support of their armed forces and the belief they will emerge victorious from this terrible conflict.That is something worth sharing and celebrating. I have always been proud of my Ukrainian heritage and now I truly understand why. Slava Ukraini!  Heroiam Slava!