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28 January 2022

Don’t let hope vanish from Ukraine

Kyiv was a place of optimism and thrill during the Orange Revolution. So much has changed.

By Frank Brinkley

My family moved in 2002 to Kyiv, where my father worked for four years as British ambassador to Ukraine. Of all of his posts, this is the one I remember most fondly. While he was there, I was in my late teens and early twenties, and Kyiv seemed glorious: small enough to traverse with ease but buzzing with hope and excitement. Memory has furnished those days with summer evenings that lasted for ever, luxurious snowfall in winter and ridiculously cheap beer available everywhere.

I remember the optimism, as well – how couldn’t I? In 2004 the Orange Revolution swept across the country. The events were straight out of a political thriller: Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner, poisoned at a dinner with leaders of Ukraine’s secret service; ordinary people taking to the streets to protest election-rigging. My father was working non-stop but to my youthful eyes all I could see was that hope and excitement.

[See also: Instead of panicking, Ukraine prepares for Putin]

My brothers and I had heard stories of diplomatic drama cast with a certain glamour growing up, like the tit-for-tat expulsions by the USSR and Britain during the Cold War. Upon reflection, I realise the implicit lesson: the situation can change very quickly indeed. Doubtless there was the British stiff upper lip at play too: we laughed about such events to keep at bay the uncertainty and stress that comes with a foreign posting.

No one is laughing now, as British and US diplomatic dependants prepare to leave Ukraine and analysts rush to comprehend Russian troop movements on the other side of the border. It comes after just shy of a decade of Russian intimidation, misinformation and aggression.

My father’s interest in Ukraine has remained strong. I’ve been a casual observer at best. I know why: the Russian encroachments are terrifying yet utterly predictable. Putin’s long-stated intention has been to control territories deemed to be in Russia’s sphere of influence.

In the excitement of the Orange Revolution, it didn’t occur to me that dependants might be asked to leave, that the situation might become too grave, too unsafe. Ukraine has come a long way since its electoral strife and seems better equipped than ever to stand up to Russia. The departure of dependants, in the face of a rapidly changing, potentially volatile situation, feels entirely apt – safety is, without question, the correct course of action. But with their evacuation, I fear what might leave with them: the hope of two decades ago.

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