Last week I spent a week with our development team in Ukraine and many people ask me what the situation is over there. So I decided to share my last week experience with you.
I arrived at the main airport from Kiev and it was just a normal situation. No extra police or military in sight. The first change that I noticed was when we arrived in Zhitomir: The statue of Lenin on the central square was removed. The pedestal is still there and they have put a poster on it with the names and images of people who died at the Maidan square in Kiev. During my last visit things escalated on that square and in Zhitomir people stormed the city hall and took over the (pro Russian) city council (see my previous post on Ukraine). One of their first decisions was to remove the statue. These posters and flowers are found on more places.
But that was the only change that I noticed on arrival, everything else looks like business as usual. On Sunday I toured the area with two colleagues, we visited some nice landmarks. A bit strange while 500 miles to the east people are fighting and dying. Of course we talked about the situation and they shared their concerns. In that conversation it became clear that although everything is quiet and it looks the same on the surface, some fundamental has changed. Before the annexation of the Krimea Ukraine was divided into two groups, Pro Russia and pro Europe. That division was the start of this unrest; the former president making a deal with Russia instead of the EU. Now Ukraine is still divided but the groups are: Pro Ukrainian and Pro Russian. People are (for the first time) proud that they are Ukrainian and the common ‘enemy’ Russia is uniting them. People are also showing this. You see cars with Ukrainian flags.
Ribbons in the Ukrainian colors attached to antenna’s and to handbags.
This is really new to Ukraine, I never saw this before. It is a change for the good I think, it unites people. The question of course is, what will happen after this crisis. There is a big chance that new divisions will arise.
An important change is the economy, this situation hasn’t helped the already weak economy. The biggest change is that the local currency (Hrivna) has lost 40% of its value in just a few weeks. This means that all imported goods have become much more expensive in the local currency, a big problem for many people. It also undermines the trust in the Hrivna, I noticed that a wholesale company that sells imported garbage bins now changed their prices from Hrivna to Euro’s, a dangerous development.
And there now is a new president: Petro Porosjenko. I don’t know what to expect of him. He is a billionaire (he has huge chocolate factories). People see that as a big advantage: “That means he doesn’t have to steal our money”. He is anti corruption and pro Europe so those are good things. But he wasn’t elected on a real program. They chose him on his personality and experience: “If you can run a billion dollar company, you can also run a country”. Let’s see what he will make of it. Next to solving this crisis the fight against corruption will be crucial. I do believe that corruption for the Ukraine might be a worse enemy than Russia. He has his work cut out for him, and I wish him all the best.