I have lived in Kyiv for many years, managed various business units, and know Ukraine and Russia well. The question I ask myself is: will it be possible living and working in Ukraine again?
Russians are the scapegoat for all the country’s problems. If the ruble loses value, it is the fault of the Americans who boycott the Russian currency. If food prices rise, it’s the fault of Europe, which pursues a price policy hostile to Russia. The reality, on the other hand, is that the Russians (like the Ukrainians) are incapable of creating/producing anything, all their wealth comes from oil, gas and their mines, nothing more. They have no industry that produces quality products, not for export, but also not for marketing within the Federation. If they produce anything at all, 90% of the time it is low- quality products. The Russians or Ukrainians themselves have the same distrust of locally produced products as they do of Chinese products.
I dare say that without its vast territory and enormous natural resources, Russia would be just a huge Ukraine. Yes, because Ukrainians and Russians are the same, they are Slavic peoples who have the same DNA, the same culture, the same religion, the same way of thinking, the same diet and the same language. I am convinced that no one would support this war if the Russian people really knew what was going on.
If we really want to find a difference between Russians and Ukrainians, we have to go to the West, where the westernmost areas of Ukraine have always been anti-Russian for historical and cultural reasons, but still in the minority. The majority of the population, at least until yesterday, felt connected to the Russians by a sense of brotherhood, which in many cases has not disappeared even after the occupation of Crimea and the Donbass, partly because all former Soviet republics are connected by deep family ties. Indeed, in the days of the USSR, the state decided people’s fate; thus, a Ukrainian doctor graduating from Kyiv could be sent to work in Novosibirsk, or an engineer from Kharkov to a factory in Moscow. Over time, this has led to an enormous intertwining of family ties between all the countries of the former Soviet Union. For example, a former secretary of mine in Kyiv had parents who lived in Amur, and if you want to be curious, look up where she is on the Google map.
We must point out that, unfortunately, the facts have shown that the Russian and Ukrainian people cannot fully experience a democratic regime. Just look at what happened in Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall, where a handful of oligarchs divided the wealth of the country among themselves while the rest of the population starved. The same thing happened, with the necessary differences, until yesterday in Ukraine, where a few dozen oligarchs monopolize almost all of the country’s wealth and the rest of the population struggles to make ends meet. Oligarchs who oppose any change or reform that could lead to the development of the country and a reduction of their wealth and power (coincidentally, all oligarchs are also deputies). An example of this is Poroshenko, an oligarch and politician who has increased his wealth a hundredfold, yes, you understood correctly, a hundredfold, during his tenure as President of Ukraine.
To return to Russia: It is easy to understand how Putin’s arrival, after the years of Boris Elstin’s collapse, was welcomed by the poor (who make up 90% of Russians) as a blessing: social stability, security, higher pensions, an increase in civil servants’ salaries, and the country’s return to a world power, even if they had to give up some of their freedom to do so. Dissent and freedom of expression are paid dearly (in extreme cases even with death).
But the system had become entrenched, so why did Russia invade Ukraine? Certainly not to defend itself against NATO. Putin knew full well that Ukraine would never join NATO, and NATO would definitely not attack Russia first. Putin was and is afraid of democracy. He waged war against Ukraine, as he did against Georgia and Moldova at the time, as the bearer of those democratic values that are typical of Western countries. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 without being attacked by an external enemy, but it collapsed under the pressure of the people’s demand for democracy and freedom.
Putin does not fear democracy in the absolute sense; he fears that the democracy virus might also take root in Russia, where a freely elected government would bring power into the hands of a few and the deterioration of the lives of many. For this reason, after seeing that the destabilization operation in the Donbass had failed to produce any significant results, he decided to use force of arms to try to install another Yanukovych at the head of the Ukrainian government. But things didn’t turn out as planned, and it seems strange to me that he did not factor that in, because as history shows, and he knows this very well, Slavic peoples do not give up easily.
In my opinion, Russia cannot conquer Ukraine now, but it runs the risk of getting bogged down in an endless conflict, and there are three possible future scenarios, none of which I think can be ruled out:
- An agreement is reached
- Putin is somehow overthrown, which is not easy given the censorship in the country and the broad support that the whole country still enjoys.
- Putin decides to up the ante even further, with consequences I dare not even imagine
Living and working in Ukraine
Although my blog is about working in the world, I have never written about living and working in Ukraine because the job opportunities for a foreigner are few (some opportunities for native teachers). With the exception of some work in call centers or in the restaurant business (cook, pizza maker, etc.), the opportunities to find work were very limited. Unless you know the Russian language and are willing to work for a salary of a few hundred euros and in this case living in Ukraine iwill be very difficult.
One thing to keep in mind in Ukraine is corruption, which can be found everywhere and at all levels. If you have a traffic violation, it is normal to pay police officers. If you get an inspection by the fire department to check fire safety regulations (which are generally not followed), it is normal to pay the fire department. If you go to a public office, you must pay. It is normal to pay university professors to pass exams. Doctors and nurses working in public hospitals must be paid if you want to receive proper treatment and make sure that when you have a surgical procedure, the doctor operates professionally without leaving disfiguring scars. Also, all documents (driver’s license, diplomas, etc.) can be easily purchased.
The rampant corruption in the country is definitely a bad thing and I am not trying to justify it, I am just saying that it is a means that allows many people to survive. If you consider that public employees (doctors, nurses, teachers, office workers, police officers, etc.) earn between 400 and 600 euros a month, it is clear that they could not survive without an additional income. However, widespread corruption, which also involves the judiciary, means that Ukraine is not yet a complete constitutional state. Thus, rich members of the wealthiest social classes always emerge victorious from a conflict with a person from a lower social class. In essence, this means that if a politician, an oligarch, a high official, or someone who has power or money collides with an ordinary person, the latter will always be found guilty, whether he is in the right or not.
This is also due to the fact that Ukraine is a strong class society. People from the higher social classes feel superior to people from the lower classes, which leads to a general attitude of ostentation, where everyone tends to appear fashionable and wealthier than they actually are.
Finally, I would like to point out the Ukrainian infrastructure (roads, public transport, hospitals, etc.), which was already deficient before the war, and I dare not think what it will look like afterwards. Most of the residential buildings were built quickly in the 1950s and 1960s as part of the post-war reconstruction for a growing urban population, but after the end of the Soviet Union, these buildings are no longer regularly maintained, much less exceptional. Stairs and hallways are splintery and poorly lit (if you are lucky, the lights work), elevators move with eerie noises and often do not work. This means that if you live on the 15th floor, you’ll have to walk to all floors, often at night and in the dark.
Living in Ukraine, conclusion
In Ukraine, the streets and sidewalks are dilapidated and littered with potholes, and the exterior lighting of the main streets is poor. Often entire flat blocks are without hot water for several days, even in winter, due to numerous outages. The tap water is not potable. Entrances to flat complexes are often dilapidated. Minorities are not protected. Corruption and bureaucracy are pervasive.
On the other hand, the cities were full of life. There are public parks everywhere. People have an extraordinary dignity, even if they are poor. Human relations are simple and direct. If you manage to get involved with the reality of the country and accept its culture, Living in Ukraine offers a unique experience.