From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment forty

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Diary notes on a three day visit to Kiev, Monday – Wednesday, 17-19 August 1992

A lightning visit to Ukraine to put in order UPS relations with new partners Vneshexpobusiness [VEB]and to close the door on our former agents Kievvneshtrans. Useful insofar as now the owners of VEB begin to appreciate the sophistication of our product, the market to be created and the immediate issues for success: release of our sacks at plane side at the airport, customs clearance at the downtown office, day of arrival delivery of documents , payment of customs during in advance on behalf of consignees to expedite customs release, etc.

I am put up in the Hotel Kiev, formerly the hotel of the parliamentarians, which is quieter than the Intourist hotels, but otherwise equally run down. The only fast moving and clever creatures are the roaches. One rascal escaped my plans for his destruction.

Other impressions from the visit [to Kiev] are not very positive. My walk around town, along the Kreshchatik reconfirm my impression of three months ago: the reforms are proceeding very slowly down here, well behind Moscow and St Petersburg. Privatization of apartments and property is moving along. But Western investment is still quite rudimentary despite the large number of business visitors. Very few Western products are on sale for local currency. Not too much is available for hard currency either. No Western boutiques to speak of.

Given the mess with introduction of ‘coupons’ to replace roubles earlier this year and continuing prevarication over intro of the hryvna as a genuine Ukrainian currency, it is not surprising nothing else is succeeding. Now the coupon is down to 300 to the dollar, while in Moscow the rouble is only at 180. Looks like the Ukrainians shot themselves in the foot.

It is amusing that everyone I run into, either at the business meetings or just on the street is speaking Russian, not Ukrainian. Now that may be a peculiarity of Kiev.

I manage to catch a press conference given by Kravchuk on TV. He behaves very well: sure of himself, giving the impression of a reasonable man who is above politics and just trying to serve the national interest. Very presidential.

On the business side of things, I get satisfaction from the knowledge that here in Kiev we, UPS have been the first of the big express companies to work directly on import and export not over Moscow. DHL and TNT and Fedex are thus well behind us. And now we are developing customs experience that none of the others have.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020 [If you found value in this article, you should be interested to read my latest collection of essays entitled A Belgian Perspective on International Affairs, published in November 2019 and available in e-book, paperback and hardbound formats from amazon, barnes & noble, bol.com, fnac, Waterstones and other online retailers. Use the “View Inside” tab on the book’s webpages to browse.]