At present, the world community becomes more and more interested in Ukraine. In the view of latest events foreign interest concerns economic, political and social spheres. Apart from interest in investments, business affairs and security field, foreign volunteers care for ordinary citizens of Ukraine. Many foreign charitable organizations and self-funded individuals deliver humanitarian aid and take direct part in improvement of lives of Ukrainian people. Peter Crosby, one of such self-funded individuals, agreed to give an interview to ForUm.
- Mr. Crosby, what is your activity in Ukraine and when was your first contact with our country?
- The story of my contact with Ukraine starts with Tony’s story.
Tony started to take aid to the area near Chernobyl’ in the 1990’s. During many visits he set up an organisation in Chernihiv to distribute the aid which he and his friends brought in their cars from Britain. Over time, this activity developed and Tony registered as a charity in Britain. He rented a warehouse in which to collect, sort and store aid, bought a large van and trailer, and started regular visits to Chernihiv.
When the wars started in the former Yugoslavia, Tony diverted his attention to Bosnia, Croatia and finally Kosovo. I and many other volunteers joined Tony on an aid delivery mission into Kosovo in the summer of 1999. On this journey I met Paul who was, like me, a volunteer driver.
Tony persuaded Paul to come with him to Chernihiv, and then Paul invited me to accompany him on the next visit. So that’s how I came to Ukraine the first time.
- What is your impression of Ukraine?
I visited Chernihiv many times, sometimes with Tony, sometimes with the many other British individuals who form a loose network of people supporting humanitarian activities in the Chernihiv region.
I have seen terrible poverty in northern Ukraine, but – worse than this – I have seen a society in decay. All the problems I mention in my postings on your website are things I have seen with my own eyes. I have visited orphanages which provide good, if basic, care, and I have seen children kept in conditions which would be considered criminal in Britain.
And I have found in Ukraine good people, many of them teenagers and young adults, who are concerned about these problems and have the energy and determination to tackle them when the older people prefer to close their eyes. These are the people whom I support during my visits. I give most support to those who try to keep children out of trouble by educating them.
I am aware that giving help of any kind can create a culture of dependency. For this reason I encourage the Ukrainians with whom I work to think and plan and act for themselves. In the end, Ukraine’s people must solve Ukraine’s problems; we in the west can help by teaching them the skills they need and by providing a little money, but the ideas and motivation must come from within and must be sustainable.
- Have you ever faced with any obstacles put by Ukraine's authorities in your humanitarian activity in our country? Have the bureaucratic system of Ukraine ever interfered into your activity?
- Yes, and at many levels. I’ll mention a few from past experiences:
The processes of registering an organisation in Ukraine as a recipient of humanitarian aid is very long winded, as is the process of actually crossing the border with a declared cargo of humanitarian aid. I recognise that controls are necessary but the time it takes to complete the paperwork seems quite disproportionate – several days for the recipient and typically 3-4 hours at the border.
The more sinister obstructions are those created deliberately by individual employees of the state in order to encourage bribery. On one occasion we spent 9 hours at the border refusing to bribe officials before they finally relented and let us into the country; even then the guard on the gate demanded cigarettes!
On the road between the border and the aid’s final destination we are prey to traffic police stopping us, confiscating our documents and demanding dollars to return them.
And finally, when the aid is delivered the best is pilfered by the customs staff and all of it attracts taxation! But don’t try asking for an official receipt to ensure that the correct amount of tax is demanded and that it is duly delivered to the government!
The value of the educational work carried out by one of the native organisations I support has been recognised by local, national and international authorities; indeed the local authority asks them for educational events and material, yet offers no money to pay for them.
- Did you support the Orange revolution in Ukraine, and have you noticed any changes and improvements since the revolution took place and Victor Yushchenko came to power?
- I don’t hold strong opinions on who should be President or PM, nor who should be in parliament. But I believe very strongly that politicians have a moral duty to serve their country and to be transparently accountable to their country. I supported the Orange Revolution because it was a genuine attempt to make government more accountable, and I am very disappointed that almost none of the promised reforms have been carried out. The obvious exception is the freedom which the press now enjoys.
In the field of humanitarian aid in which I am involved, specifically supporting voluntary groups which provide education as a protection against HIV, drugs, alcohol and various forms of abuse, I have seen few government-led changes over the last four or five years and none attributable to the post-OR government. Perhaps there is more openness which allows western NGOs better access to assess the scale of the problems, but that’s about all. What I see more generally is that, despite occasional calls for action by Victor Yushchenko, there is a massive disconnection between the president’s ideals, the parliament’s willingness to support them and the government’s ability to enact them. It’s not just a matter of money, although this is always a limiting factor; it’s a lack of effective structures to connect national government with local administrations and agencies. Successive governments’ remoteness from the real issues going on around them is, to a very large extent, responsible for the unchecked increase in HIV in Ukraine to its present epidemic proportions: the country missed the opportunity to learn from western experiences going back to the 1980s and prepare the country for the inevitable arrival of HIV.
- President's supporters claim that previous government (Kuchma's) oppressed Ukrainian people and prevented from development. Do you consider the present authorities give Ukrainians an opportunity to develop and improve their lives?
- There is no doubt that both national and international business confidence is increasing, if only by slow small steps. If this ultimately increase employment and tax income for expenditure on social welfare and encourages a broader range of skills to be developed then, yes, we will see improvements in people lives.
On a personal level, I feel that many people are learning to be more confident and self-reliant; some are re-discovering the lost faculties to question, analyse and synthesise rather than simply swallow party dogma. These are essential skills if you want to get a grip of your life or your society’s problem and do something with it.
But there is another side to this story. At the moment Kiev is growing at a much faster pace than the surrounding rural areas. One or two hundred kilometres away whole villages are dying as their youth migrate to the bright lights and high salaries, leaving behind the elderly, unskilled and sick to drink themselves to premature deaths. In some rural societies, where traditionally youth took over the working of the farms and supported their aging relatives, lives are becoming much worse.
- Do you consider Tymoshenko's government was sacked rightly? And what is your opinion on her desire to come back? Do you consider Tymoshenko a careerist or real fighter for justice?
- I don’t know all the inside stories. But the president’s behaviour appeared, to my western eyes, to be childish and inappropriate for a statesman. I can believe that Yushchenko was motivated by genuine frustration that the government was not enacting his reforms quickly enough, but his action left him, as well as the whole government, more impotent than before. Unfortunately it set an example which others have followed in retaliation.
As for Tymoshenko, I’m starting to believe that her heart is in the right place and she is perhaps the most able leader of any of the major blocs to lead the country out of its past. Of course she’s a careerist, nobody gets to lead a major bloc without ambition and personal plans. The question for me is how well she will balance personal cravings for wealth and power with a genuine desire to serve the nation. I think she and Yushchenko are both genuine in their desires, but Tymoshenko is perhaps less constrained by her personal history than the president to tackle the fundamental questions of justice.
- As for the President, do you consider him fully responsible for failure to fulfil pre-election promises and to carry out reforms, or his ill-assorted team must be blamed?
- I don’t hold any one person responsible. Any president would struggle to make progress with so many factions fighting each other in the VR. I must say that Yushchenko does not appear to me to have the skills necessary to find common ground between the factions and gain broad support for a priority-driven national strategy. But equally, the faction leaders show in many cases a preference to cling to, and exert, what little parliamentary power they have rather than use that power responsibly for the good of the nation which elected them. I guess that in a culture where dogma was unquestionable, the art of negotiation and compromise is all but lost.
- Do you consider there is a real language problem in Ukraine? What is your attitude towards Russian as a second state language? Do you think politicians' manipulations with languages split the country into two camps - Russian Ukrainians and Ukrainian Ukrainians, or this problem existed before and now have nothing to do with politics?
- This subject creates so much emotion within Ukraine and amongst the Ukrainian Diaspora that I don’t feel qualified to comment. But I do see that the language question is being used for political ends, and in particular to create fear amongst the ethnic Russian population that their language will be outlawed in order to win their support for politicians claiming to defend Russian. I consider this to be irresponsible in that it continues to divide Ukraine at a time when the country needs to unite to get itself on its feet. The question of whether Russian should be accepted de facto as a second language, recognized officially as the second language or ignored in all official communications is one that will ultimately have to be resolved by the nation, and there are plenty of examples worldwide which could be used as models.
- Do you continue your humanitarian activities in Ukraine?
- Yes. The areas I’m involved with won’t be resolved overnight; there will be a need for large and small scale initiatives to tackle them all over the country for many years to come, until the government starts to take over an effective role in directing and coordinating them.
- Do you believe Ukrainians will manage to improve their life and to make Ukraine a “European” country?- Ukraine is a European country already! But I guess the question is really about EU membership. I believe that this is an unnecessary distraction at the moment. By all means, examine the workings and principles of the EU and use them where appropriate as models and sources of experience to fast-track Ukrainian development, but why debate membership when the country is still so far from meeting so many of the pre-requisites? There are much more urgent issues facing Ukraine which, in any case, need to be resolved before Ukraine can be considered for membership.
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