Ukraine: This land is your land

By Axel  Reiserer

Ukraine: This land is your land

Despite its historic location on the border of an empire, Ukraine has unquestionably established its autonomy and unity as a nation. Since its independence, the EBRD has recognized Ukraine's potential and continues to invest in virtually every sector of the Ukrainian economy.

On the border of empire

History never hands a merciful destiny to countries located on the border of great empires. What then can be expected for a country that seemingly carries its destiny in its name? Traditionally, historians and linguists have interpreted the name “Ukraina” as borderland, although some contemporary scholars disagree. Samuel Huntington even went so far as to see the “Clash of Civilisations” cutting right through Ukraine.

The land on which the modern nation of Ukraine is situated may look back at a history that stretches to the beginnings of the Kievan Rus in the ninth century, but as an independent country it is very young. After centuries of rule over the territory by the Mongols, Russia, Austria, Poland or the Tatars, it was only at the end of 1991 that the country became independent.

Ukraine for Ukrainians

From the Carpathian mountains to the Black Sea coast, from the no man’s land around Chernobyl to the coal mines of the east – for the first time in generations Ukrainians had reason to hum Woody Guthrie’s song: “This land was made for you and me”. As it turned out, adapting to a new world order was rather more difficult than many had hoped. A few years later the question in Guthrie’s song was asked publicly: “Is this land still made for you and me?”

For weeks, the Orange Revolution in 2004 captivated the attention of the whole world. Today, much of the enthusiasm that was on display during those days has evaporated. Day-to-day politics is by far less intriguing, but is in many ways much more difficult than the big moments when history is being made.

Many observers see Ukraine as a deeply divided country and they draw the line exactly where Huntington located the fault line between civilisations. The same division is also frequently evoked by rival political forces for obvious purposes: it serves both sides to do so.

In reality, however, the country is more unified today than it has ever been since independence: no serious political force questions the country’s independence anymore; nobody favours its break up; nobody wants a return to central planning and political suppression. Even those who are very critical of Ukraine’s development will concede that there is freedom of expression and a vibrant debate about the country’s destiny and future. For the first time in perhaps generations Ukrainian artists have the opportunity to leave a mark internationally. Despite all its difficulties the country’s economy is growing rapidly and public life is thriving. And, finally, today the battleground is where it ought to be: in the political arena.

Mikolay Ryabchuk, arguably the leading Ukrainian scholar of our time, does not want to see his country reduced to a battleground. In his book The real and the imagined Ukraine he forcefully makes the case for a Ukrainian state and nation which is a junction of its different parts and as a whole is bigger than its constituent elements.

The awarding of the European football championship 2012 to Ukraine and Poland was a welcome boost to the country’s confidence and to its ambitions. Most Ukrainians realise that this challenge represents a huge opportunity for the country in terms of what must be and what can be achieved for successful games. No less important, though, is how the country will present itself to the world.

The EBRD's long-standing commitment to Ukraine

The EBRD has been Ukraine’s partner since its independence. It is testament to the significance the Bank attaches to this nation of 46 million people, that for the first time in its history the Bank will hold an Annual Meeting for the second time in the same city. The EBRD held its 1998 Annual Meeting in Kiev, and it will return to the capital of Ukraine in May 2008 to take stock of the past 10 years and also to look ahead.

The Bank has a balance sheet in Ukraine of which it can be proud. More than €3 billion in EBRD funds have been invested in some 150 projects. But it is not only the financial commitment which is impressive; perhaps even more striking is the depth and breadth of the Bank’s projects in the country. Since 1991, the Bank has invested in virtually every sector of the economy that is covered by its mandate, from agribusiness to the financial sector, from road construction to shipping, from property development to steel production.

Today, the EBRD’s focus in Ukraine is on infrastructure and energy efficiency. The country uses 3.3 times more energy to produce each unit of GDP than the EU-25 average. A €100 million energy efficiency framework was put in place in October 2006 to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to invest in energy savings. A loan to ArcelorMittal includes a large component to finance energy efficiency improvements.

Elsewhere, the EBRD provided a €76 million loan to the Alchevsk iron and steel works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Both these projects involve the purchase of carbon credits.

A visitor to Ukraine today will find a country of huge contrasts. The capital Kiev is booming, but the strong inflow of foreign investment has yet to reach remoter parts of the country. The most expensive Western cars (naturally with tinted glass) are speeding down newly upgraded roads only to be held up by ancient ox-carts. Ukraine is home to the famously rich black chernozem soil, yet many agricultural activities barely reach subsistance levels.

Despite achievements and undeniable progress, therefore, much remains to be done in Ukraine. Development is never a one-way, linear process. As surely as there will be be slow-downs, detours and setbacks, there will also be new impulses for progress. The EBRD understands this as a call to intensify its efforts as a strong and dependable partner in the region and the country.