Some Final Reflections on Ukraine (For Now)

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With everything that is going on with the dreadful, reprehensible war on Ukraine at the moment, I have spent much time over the past couple of weeks reflecting upon a visit that I made to Ukraine in 1998. I thought that I would now put this into a series of blog posts. Click here for the first post, here for the second post, here for the third post, here for the fourth post, here for the fifth post, and here for the sixth post. This is the final post that I am planning for now and relates to a visit I made to Ukraine in 1999 and some observations and links to posts relating to the current war.

As noted in the first post in the series, my reason for going to Ukraine in 1998 had been to recruit students to a new English language programme at the University of Sheffield. To try to increase the chances of recruitment, a second round of trips were made in May 1999 with me once again going to Donetsk and the Tri-city area of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia in Poland. Here is my Ukrainian visa and stamps from second trip:

For this second trip I didn’t (as far as I remember) go to Kyiv – but I did fly to Kyiv. This time I took British Airways and my suitcase came with me the whole way (see the first post for more about what happened on my 1998 trip in relation to this). That’s not to say that I didn’t having any dramas. There was some very heavy turbulence while flying over the Channel and then, as we landed at Kyiv, I noticed from my window seat that one of the flaps appeared to stick before suddenly extending to the same length as the others. From what I could see from my vantage point it looked like that there may have been signs of some friction damage and that it may not have been the first time that it had happened. After some reflection on what to do, as I left the plane, I asked to speak to the captain and report what I had seen. This was granted and I passed on the information. It is ironic that I am writing this post the day after watching the “Plane Crash Recreated” episode about BD029/Kegworth where passengers and crew didn’t inform the captain about what they had seen and the mis-match with what the captain told them about an engine fire. I don’t know what was done with the information I passed on, but I know the captain took it seriously. I also know that the plane made its return journey as scheduled later that day.

I have no particular memories of this three-day-two-night trip to Ukraine. Part of me thinks that I took a quick trip into Kyiv, but it’s more likely that I stayed at the airport. I also remember nothing of the visit to Donetsk. My only memory of the trip is that I had an incredibly long (six hours from memory) lay over at Kyiv Airport, probably on the return leg and on my way to Warsaw. I enjoyed this time and remember it passing quite quickly. I spent much of the time comparing the passengers as they were called for their various flights, most of which were going to various parts of the former Soviet Union. I found the variation in dress and racial appearance of the passengers fascinating and in stark contrast to the very ‘white’ image that I was brought up on in relation to the make up of the people of the Soviet Union.

Although my trips to Ukraine were not straight forward – or as successful as I would have liked at one level – I learnt much from them and have very fond memories of them, what I experienced, and the people that I met.

Turning to the events of 2022, I cannot claim to be an expert on Ukraine. I see the news – though don’t read/watch it in detail. I also see a range of posts on social media, links to webinars, and to blog posts. I would like to present a few of these that I found particularly useful.

  • A Facebook post by the author Barry Eisler (others of his posts are also useful/interesting/relevant)

It is natural at this time for us to look to history for lessons. The names I see being thrown around are Cuba (missile crisis), Pearl Harbor and 9/11 (in relation to having a no-fly-zone over Ukraine), and Manchuria (in terms of the West not stopping Japan’s advancement). The latter is one that I find particularly interesting due to my work related to Japan, as equally I can see dangerous parallels about how the US and others imposed an oil embargo on Japan and how that led to Japan’s advancement into Indonesia and also, ultimately, its attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the problems with history is that we ignore the lessons it can provide at our peril, but there are also many examples that are contradictory.

One thing that I dislike is the simplicity of discussion and the hypocrisy that comes to the fore. So many of the world’s problems – including the current situation with Ukraine – can be linked to the actions or inactions of the British and American governments over the years. These countries, while condemning the actions of Putin (and please, let’s keep it clear, it’s Putin not the whole of Russia and certainly not all Russian people), do little to address the suffering of Palestinians or the on-going attacks on Yemen, to name just two examples.

During the past few weeks, seeing what has happened to Ukraine reminds me about my first (and to date) only proper visit to Taiwan (i.e. not including when I changed planes there during my first trip to Japan, touched upon in my post Reflecting on China Airlines’ 747 Passenger Plane Retirement). I will post more about this one day. The key point for here, however, is that whatever the issues of independence, etc – what is more important than anything is for peace to be maintained.

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