Issue 287: 2021 07 08: Ukraine

8 July 2021



By Neil Tidmarsh

It’s been a bad week for Ukraine.  That 4-0 score.  You have to feel sorry for them.  Fate always seems to be against them.  They have a history of home-grown talent wandering off elsewhere, for instance.  Joseph Conrad, for one – a truly international-standard player born in Ukraine but committing to other loyalties, first to Poland, then to France, then to England.  And that all-time great of the Russian team, Anton Chekhov – ok, he was born just the other side of the border in Russia, but that’s one of the most disputed borders in the world, after all, and he did have a Ukrainian mother, and he did live much of his life in Ukraine – so he could have pulled on the Ukraine shirt if the fates had been kinder to his mother’s country.

And as for taking the long view and building a world-class team from the nursery up, generation by generation, forget it when your powerful neighbour to the east is in the habit of sabotaging your chances.  In spite of the famous fertility of the country’s soil, four million Ukrainians – that’s one tenth of the population – died of hunger in 1933, thanks to a famine deliberately inflicted by a paranoid Stalin on a Soviet Socialist Republic whose loyalty he didn’t trust.  And Russia keeps moving the goalposts – giving the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 but taking it back again in 2014.  And as for the inhabitants of Donbas in eastern Ukraine – the people of Donetsk and Luhansk – it seems that Moscow would be more than happy if they chose to play in the Russian team.

Anyway, this week’s 4-0 result.  Let’s look at each of those goals in turn.

First goal.  President Putin, in his annual televised question and answer session with the Russian public last Wednesday, put the ball into the back of Ukraine’s net by declaring that he saw no point in meeting President Zelensky of Ukraine to talk about the war in eastern Ukraine.  “Why should I meet Zelensky?” he said, suggesting that the Ukraine president is a powerless pawn of the West.  “Key issues for Ukraine are not resolved in Kiev, but in Washington and to a certain extent in Berlin and Paris.”

Second goal.  President Lukashenko of Belarus, hot on the heels of ruthlessly sending off and brutally punishing most of his team for protesting against his despotic management, closed the border with Ukraine last Friday.  The state news agency claimed that a Ukraine-backed plot to stage a coup against him had been uncovered and foiled.  “A huge amount of weapons is coming from Ukraine to Belarus” it quoted him as saying.  “That’s why I ordered border security forces to fully close the border with Ukraine.”  But no doubt Ukraine will be challenging this goal and demanding a VAR review.

Third goal.  Something of an own goal?  On Monday, China’s ministry of commerce announced an investment deal with Kiev – China is to finance road, bridge and rail projects in Ukraine.  This follows Ukraine’s recent withdrawal from a Human Rights Council statement urging China to give independent observers immediate access to the Xinjiang region to investigate claims about Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims.  Ukraine had been one of 44 countries to sign the statement, but it removed its support last month.  President Zelensky is eager for his country to join Nato (the US and Ukraine are currently engaged in two weeks of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea involving 32 ships, 40 aircraft and 5000 troops from Nato members and allies) but this engagement with Beijing can only harm its chances of doing so.  Washington has already expressed its alarm at China’s recent attempts to buy Ukrainian defence companies; the Chinese aviation firm Skyrizon recently made a bid tfor the Ukrainian company Motor Sich, the world-class manufacturer of aircraft engines which can also be used for drones and cruise missiles.

Fourth goal.  Another own goal?  Last weekend Ukraine’s defence ministry came under fire from MPs in Kiev for making female soldiers wear high heels when they march on parade.  Photos were published of the soldiers rehearsing for parades to mark the thirtieth anniversary of independence from Russia.  The combination of high heels with combat fatigues not only looked absurd but was condemned as torture – the no doubt painful rehearsals lasted four hours.  The defence ministry tried to defend the footwear but eventually backed down.  The army has more than 30,000 female soldiers and a third of them have fought against the separatists in Donbas.  Their representatives will now be wearing boots made for marching when they take part in next month’s parade.

So Ukraine is out of the Euros.  But the recent clash of a British team with a Russian team off the coast of the Crimea suggests that Ukraine is the country most likely to host a major international tournament before too long.  More bad luck for Ukraine – after all, any country which has hosted even such events as the Olympics or the World Cup will admit that the cost of doing so is ruinously high.



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