Kiev Day 2: A country at war

I am now in Kiev with Sasha. She met me at the airport and the anticipation and wait was worth every moment. She looked as beautiful and wonderful as ever.

I have been to Kiev many times, but the excitement is still there. Like all cities, it changes with the seasons. Sometimes it is very warm and sunny, but today it is very cold and snowing. Unlike last summer, this week it is very unlikely we will be enjoying a trip on Sasha’s father’s boat on the river Dnieper.

Last night we had dinner with our friend Tatiana at Carpaccio on the left bank. The food was as good as ever but the temperature as we left the restaurant to pick up the taxi was way down low. It was at -9oc.  This week will be much more scarves, gloves, and woolly hats. The temperature today is going to be a little over -3oc, but the sun is out.

Kiev is an ancient and beautiful city dating back to the 5th century although there were clearly earlier settlements. Despite significant damage in the second world war there are still many historic buildings. I enjoy walking around Kiev.

On a summer’s day, a couple of years ago, I walked around an open-air market in the shadow of the mainly 17th Century, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. It is an architectural wonder. Around the church there are restaurants and shops. I hope this week I will find out if the market also opens in the winter. Like all markets around tourist attractions there is a wide range of tatter, but rarely elsewhere do you find old Russian Army great coats, fur hats and soldier’s jackets.

The plan is that later this week Sasha and I will go there, walk a little and then stop for a coffee or hot wine in the shadow of the St Sophia.

I like to walk around and although now Kiev is a sprawling city, the middle is compact. It is also a green city and there was a saying that in the summer you could almost walk around the centre of Kiev in the shadow of a horse chestnut tree.

Sasha was always concerned when I said I liked to walk around sightseeing, particularly at night. She is concerned for my safety and that is made worse because of the war.

From our cosy sofas in the West of course we know that there are problems in the East of Ukraine and now that the Russian invasion of Crimea is no longer in the headlines you may have even forgotten there are problems. Ukrainians don’t talk about it as a ‘problem’. At least in Kiev they talk about war.

Many have forgotten that there is a continuing war in Ukraine.

This is what the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth says on its web site offering advice to travellers. The security situation in the south eastern parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine remains highly unstable with ongoing clashes between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed armed separatists. The UN calculates this has resulted in approximately 10,100 deaths and the internal displacement of between 800,000 and 1 million people residing permanently in government-controlled areas of Ukraine. Civilians continue to get caught up in the fighting.

The Kiev Post in December 2017 reported ( Russia’s war is still going on, now in its fourth year with no end in sight and casualties — more than 10,000 people killed already — continuing to mount. Ukraine remains no closer at the end of 2017 to regaining control of Crimea or the Russian-controlled areas of the Donbas, an area of 46,000 square kilometres, or 7 percent of the country’s territory. The peace talks didn’t make any progress and 2017 marked the first year of the war without any Ukrainian hostages being released by the enemy. Russian-occupied Donbas moved further away from Kyiv economically, with shortages of food reported on both sides of the war front.

The situation may be even worse. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAZ) newspaper reported: In 2015 “Germany’s special services estimate the probable number of deceased Ukrainian servicemen and civilians at up to 50,000 people. This figure is about 10 times higher than official data. Official figures are clearly too low and not credible,” the newspaper reported on Sunday, citing its source.

This is not just a problem. It is real war and it has led to increasing numbers of injured or homeless returning to Kiev and this is the threat that Sasha worries about for us walking late at night in central Kiev.

When I took that trip back from Malawi and stopped off in Addis Ababa in my naivety I was unaware of their ongoing civil war. Maybe tanks stationed all around the airport should have been a clue, but I wandered around, as I now try to do in Kiev.

With more knowledge and a proper guide I take far more care of our safety, but nothing takes away the enjoyment of being in Kiev.