Kiwiblog in Ukraine

I’m in Ukraine for a few days, attending the Black Sea Security Forum. For reasons of operational security I can’t blog any details of the Forum until it has concluded, but I can blog about why I am here, and my impressions to date.

I’m here because I think what happens in Ukraine matters. It is not a complicated conflict. Ukraine wants to remain a democratic country where its 40 million people determine their own future. Russia wishes to conquer it and turn it into a puppet state, or even use it as the start of reforming the former Soviet Union. It’s probably the most morally unambiguous conflict since World War II.

So what happens is vitally important to 40 million Ukrainians who are fighting for their nation’s survival as an independent democratic country, but it is also important to the world and New Zealand. As one of the smallest and least powerful countries in the world, we benefit the most from a rules based international order, as opposed to a might based international order. A defeat in Ukraine will not just encourage further Russian expansion in Europe, but will embolden other autocratic regimes.

So when I was given the opportunity to attend the Forum, I thought about it for many weeks, only making a final decision to attend a few weeks ago. I feel very strongly my responsibility to my seven and four year old to remain alive many more years for them, and to be more risk adverse than in my youth. But weighing up against that, the actual risk is very low for me – not zero, but very low. Odessa is a fair way from the frontlines. There are missile attacks from Russia, but a very useful phone app warns you of them, and tells you where the closest shelter is. So far the biggest risk was probably the three hour drive from Moldova, where my driver weaved in and out of traffic constantly as he overtook anyone slower than us.

Ukraine being at war is noticeable. There are military vehicles everywhere along the main road.

Ukraine is not a wealthy country, like many former Soviet countries. The GDP per capita is less than 10% of NZ or around 25% on the PPP basis. Around the same as Vietnam and Ecuador. The outskirts of Odessa look very typical Eastern European, but once you get to the city centre, you have remarkable beauty.

The Odessa Opera House which happened to have on a stunning performance of the Don Quixote ballet the evening I arrived.

Every building (and I mean every) in Odessa flies the Ukrainian flag. It is a reminder of how powerful national symbols can be as a unifying force.

The City Gardens, which is surrounded by cafes with outdoor dining, so was my dinner venue last night.

Deribasovskaya Street.

As I said at the beginning, I can’t yet blog details of the speakers and discussion (or venue) of the Forum, but will do so when I can.

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