My article on the Ukraine elections, and new President, Zelenskyi.

My article on the Ukraine elections and new President was published here in the newsletter of Liberal International (British Group). At pages 13 – 15. With thanks to the editor, Stewart Rayment, and for editing the text to Mark Smulian of Liberator magazine, which is due to publish the article as well next month.
InterLib September 2019:

It is a .pdf file, which you can download, my article is at pages 13 – 15.

I have also put the unedited text of the Liberator magazine article, below.

In the space I didn’t have time to cover in any detail what the election observation involves, or what was and wasn’t done during the election that either broke election law or in inventive and imaginative ways got round the spirit of the election laws. I give some account of why I am sympathetic to former President Petro Poroshenko – I could give rather more reasons and concrete examples – but at the same time I didn’t have enough space to outline my criticisms of him, and more reasons why I am cautiously optimistic about President Zelenskyi. Nor was I able to talk about what living in Ukraine is actually like and the many normal and unusual things (for someone from Britain), huge number of extreme contrasts and paradoxes. I’m always happy to talk about these topics from my own experience to anyone interested.

For those who want some detail about the mechanics and outcome of the election I recommend this blog by my friend and Long Term Observer election colleague, Alex Folkes:
Ukraine’s President gets what he wants out of Parliamentary polls but wants more

July 27 ‘Ukraine’s president gets what he wants out of parliamentary polls but wants more’.

I have also put the unedited text of the Liberator magazine draft article, here:

Ukraine’s Comedian is no comic. Great hope & some chance on democracy’s eastern border.


Article for Liberator magazine (UK Liberal political magazine), published edited in the newsletter of Liberal International British Group. This is a Word .doc document.

Economic and political consquences of Britain Brexit (self)destruction.

(A note that was originally a comment on a friend’s Facebook post). I sympathise with those in the fishing industry who lost out because of joining the EU (though they lost a lot due to losing the Cod Wars with Iceland as well). I understand the concerns of those from Australia and New Zealand and Canada that we shouldn’t have sacrificed closer links with Commonwealth countries, (though the same arguments about India or Asian countries are not put by the same people). I dislike the EU Court of Justice deciding on British benefits or immigration policy (to ensure rules are the same across Europe that were supposed to be the same for free movement of workers). What I rarely hear is any of these arguments logically put by any one spouting off anti the EU. I love the fact that Liverpool, and even immigrant unfriendly Birkenhead (more accurately Birkenhead with immigrant unfriendly Labour MP) or suburbs, has lots of South Americans in it now. I like my Turkish barbers (probably Kurdish, maybe Yazidi), and I love all the new Arab food businesses that have sprung up including Syrian and Iranian and African. Entirely a matter of immigration under the control of Labour / Coalition / Tory governments – nothing to do with the EU. But these anti-EU people who bleat on about money have cost me money every time I travel abroad as the pound has plummeted against the Euro, and most places I go across Europe Euros are the international currency of choice (inside and outside of the EU). My savings have been hit because of the political instability in Britain and the political instability across Europe that the political crisis in Britain has made worse. Most of our Conservative and some senior Labour politicians (and the extremist DUP / Farageist / UKIP groupees) have contributed to this political instability. How we need real statesmen now. Many of the latter currently are women, mostly in the Greens, SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid plus a few dissidents in Labour and Conservative Parties and Change UK / Independents.

I support the EU on grounds of principle and practical reasons, but wish Brexit supporters would lose their own money rather than mine.

A friend, David Ellis, posted the (always brilliant) Matt cartoon from the Daily Telegraph, about post Brexit subsidies being required for the fishing industry if Britain leaves the EU.

UK backs independent media in Ukraine, & other reforms. Praise and concern.

I posted this comment on Facebook, especially aimed at Ukrainian professional friends who work on media related projects, and anyone who cares about reforms.

… and other friends working on media related projects may by interested in this UK FCO (Foreign Office – Foreign Ministry) announcement about support to independent media in Ukraine.
“Foreign Office Minister of State Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon will today (Tuesday 2 July) announce that the UK is supporting independent media in Ukraine and the wider region through a new £9million three year project, as he attends the Ukraine Reform Conference in Canada. The announcement comes ahead of the first Global Media Freedom Conference in London next week.”
And other political reforms.

It was clear from my three months working in Ukraine recently that media independence – at local and regional level as well as national – is of vital importance, and supporting investigative and political journalism. The lack of local political reporting (except some by television, and citizen journalists), and the obvious concerns for their livelihood or safety of even fairly low key independent journalists, hinder the ability to inform the public.

There are two parts of the four reform priorities set out that I am continually uneasy about:
“We must remain focussed on fundamental reforms: first, reform of the judiciary; second, a well-designed privatisation programme; third, legislation to dismantle monopolies; and, fourth, reforms to media ownership that ensure a free and fair press.”

Judges. I’ve met many Ukrainian judges, in many places and they strike me as being as professional, educated and independent as judges I’ve met in Western Europe (if rather younger than many of the judges in the UK). Of course I haven’t seen them in cases, and have only met briefly, but I’ve been impressed by the regional, city and town judges that I’ve met. As one judge said to me four years ago, people criticise judges but they don’t usually criticise the judge in a case that they are in, or a judge that they know personally. I don’t know the judges at national or Kyiv level who have been often embroilled in controversy – and heavely criticised by Maidan and civil society activists and reformers. But the principle of judicial independence is something that should not be lightly tampered with.

Secondly, this statement talks about a “well-designed privatisation programme.” That is better than the gung ho usually American and London American backed think tanks who seem to think privatisation is an end in itself. There are only practical reasons in favour of or against state ownership or privatisation of utilities and monopolies for example. Being done on ideological grounds is a bad reason. Being done badly will discredit the reform process in Ukraine and set it back.

Nearly every ordinary person I met in Ukraine was most concerned about the cost of utilities, the poor quality / cost of health care, lack of good job opportunities at home for skilled workers and professionals with higher education, and they wanted the War to end. No Ukrainian President can wave a magic wand to solve the first or the last. Only Putin / the Russian State or Army can end the last. On the former at least (as I’ve been arguing for years) there is now big investment into renewable energy in Ukraine, and an emphasis on energy efficiency (much of the latter backed by aid from foreign taxpayers). New windows in very many schools that I visited was a very good start for the children and staff in them.

In Contact. ВКонтакте (V Kontakte).
I also posted it on the ‘Russian speaking’ social media VK (In Contact) which is still used by many in Ukraine, especially popular with Russian speaking young people, even though it has been restricted. Ukrainian government policy and communication fails to reach this audience especially, measures such as (quite reasonably) restricting Russian owned social media without preparing people for alternatives was a particular own goal. One that the new President, a first language Russian speaker like many in Eastern and Central and southern Ukraine, probably understands better than most.

Shakespeare in Chernihiv, and Zaporizhzhya, North central, and South East Ukraine.

One thing puzzled me continually in the lovely historic small city of Chernihiv. Everywhere I go, since my brother Pat was creating Shakespeare Magazine, I see Shakespeare connections. There is always everywhere some link to William Shakespeare.


But not in Chernihiv. I didn’t see any link at all in this cultured modern Ukrainian city.


Until my very last night. Going to call in to a bar to see the barman that I knew, Rosti (Rostislav), I saw this poster on a door next to the entrance to the basement bar. For a performance at the Theatre in the city a few days earlier.


A one man performance by Valerii Chilyaev. In my last week of work in the town I probably walked past a giant banner advertising this event, as it was on at the main theatre on the main square. 20 April. “Performance after the performance”. A one man show including extracts from Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night or What You Will. By Valerij Chyglyayev, Honored Artist of Ukraine.


By contrast as soon as I arrived in Zaporizhzhya, the post industrial post Soviet city in the South East I saw a Shakespeare poster immediately. Although this isn’t a surprise in the Faculty of Foreign Philology (Language) in a city that is a centre of Shakespeare scholars in Ukraine. A week earlier there had a been a whole host of events, put on by students for students across the Zaporizhzhya National University, to celebrate the bard’s birthday. I saw a poster for one postgraduate giving a seminar, and then this noticeboard with several others. All badged as part of the large scale ‘Shakespeare Days in Ukraine 2019’ linked running festival of events across the country. Many of the links promoted by the energy and ideas of Professor Nataliya Torkut.


Just one of the presentations was by Oksana Sobol, speaking on Shakespeare and Nazi ideology. How the texts and words were used both to support and resist Nazi ideology. Oksana gave the same presentation to third year students immediately after my talk to them, on 10 May, about Shakespeare Magazine.


When talking about Nazi attempts to co-opt Shakespeare one can’t but help laugh that Hamlet here is Gamlet (like that well known magician, Garry Potter). Ironic as well that this talk was taking place yards from where Hitler gave two speeches in 1943, the day after victory over the Nazis was celebrated. Our civilised cultural links have survived and grown stronger.


With thanks to Christina Bondarenko for original and additional translation.

Back in Ukraine as a professional International Election observer.

From 11 Feburary to 1 May I have been working in Ukraine as an election observer for the election of the President. Apart from training, briefings and meetings in Kyiv, I worked for two and a half months in the Chernihiv Oblast (region) in the north of Ukraine, 100km north of Kyiv. My team, Long Term Observer Team 28 (LTO28) covered the small city, towns and districts of Nizhyn, Pryluky and Bakhmach, south of the historic city of Chernihiv, the regional capital.
Deployed by SOLACE International Elections, joint with the British East West Centre, on behalf of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to join the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation Mission to Ukraine for the Presidential Election, 31 March and 21 April 2019.

Birmingham and Zaporizhia, Ukraine. Twin cities, back in the USSR?

Thanks to the library catalogue prompt at the Library of Birmingham, & the helpful staff of the Archives section, after 4 years of enquiries I’ve found the evidence that Zaporizhzhya in Ukraine is or was twinned with Birmingham in Great Britain. People in Zaporizhia remember this but no one in Birmingham seemed to. The sixth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 750,000 people.

I hadn’t thought to look for the spelling Zaporozhe – but the library catalogue software prompted me, “did I mean …” and up came one sole result. A record from 1980 of a typed document with no length and no author. ‘Zaporozhe : Birmingham’s twin city in the USSR’.
Typescript (photocopy), [1980]

And a helpful member of the Archives & Collections team volunteered to look if there were any other items at the same class number. She came back with three slim card folders with A4 photocopied documents.

These included ‘Programme for the visit to Birmingham of a civic delegation from Zaporozhye U.S.S.R, 24th Sept.-1st October 1973’


‘Communique of the first meeting of the twin cities of the USSR and UK’
Typescript (photocopy), 1987.

The twin cities met in Donetsk in July 1987.

I hope that these Birmingham – Zaporizhzhia links can be rekindled. I first was told about them by Assistant Professor Marina Vorybyova at Zaporizhzhya National University in October 2014. That was my second visit to the city and Ukraine, and first visit as a volunteer honorary Professor. I’ve been back four more times since (including volunteering and a lengthy work trip to Ukraine) and will be there again in the Spring.

The 1980 twin city pamphlet is a fascinating 7 page read, by the Birmingham Branch of the Great Britain USSR Association with the help of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Birmingham. Contact M. J. Berry.

Of course the full, lavish & wide ranging programme for the 1973 delegation from the Soviet city included a tour of Shakespeare’s birthplace & performance of Romeo & Juliet in Stratford upon Avon. This is fitting as Zaporizhzhya is home of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. You can read more about that on the Shakespeare Magazine website.

Thanks to Wikipedia for explaining the naming (and statistics):, though there are more different transliterations in English that you can see.
Zaporizhia (Ukrainian: Запорі́жжя [zɑpoˈriʒʒɑ] Zaporizhzhya) or Zaporozhye (Russian: Запоро́жье [zəpɐˈroʐjɪ]), formerly Alexandrovsk (Russian: Алекса́ндровск[ɐlʲɪˈksandrəfsk]; Ukrainian: Олександрівськ [ɔlɛksɑndriu̯sʲk])
(Viewed 29/01/2019).

These are the transliterated into Latin letters name variants that I have come across (I may have missed some)
Zaporizhia / Zaporozhe / Zaporizhzhia / Zaporizhzhya / Zaporozhye / Zaporizia

The third record the archivist found doesn’t even appear on the catalogue when searched under that Call Number LP 31.8. (It was mistyped as P 31.8). A great bit of old fashioned library research.

With thanks to Bob Deed of Birmingham, friend of Ukraine and expert SE Europe traveller, for his continued support in finding out about these links between two major European industrial powerhouses.

Zaporozhe Birmingham s twin city in the USSR scan

Birmingham civic delegation ex Zaporozhye USSR

First meeting twin cities USSR and UK 1987

A remarkable Shrewsbury woman in historic Monastir / Bitola.

Here is the story, in 7 photos taken from a display in Shrewsbury, of a British woman who led a team of nurses and was killed in shelling there. Katherine Harley was a prominent suffragette. The city was called Monastir then (its Ottoman name). I recommend a visit to Bitola and the guides don’t mention these stories. They do tell you about the Serbian and French and German war graves, plus historic Ottoman and Jewish cemeteries. Those are the next photos. Shrewsbury display from the Bear Steps gallery. Larger images in gallery at the end.

The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (1).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (2).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (3).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (4).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (5).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (7).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (8).

Good luck to all my friends in Macedonia for the referendum on Sunday.

Good luck to all my friends in Macedonia for the referendum tomorrow. I really hope that voters vote positively for the Republic of North Macedonia and defeat the extreme nationalists on both sides who want to keep hostility between people alive. This vote is a fantastic opportunity for a country that I love to put people who want neighbours to work together first, for the benefit of all the people of the countries in the region.
Britain has longstanding historical links with Macedonia, mostly forgotten. Here is the first British consulate in Bitola, and site of the one closed a few years ago. Now the town is renowned for its cafe culture. That historic southern city was also on the frontline in World War I (the ‘Salonica front’) of British, French, Serbs and allies against the Austro-Hungarians.