Lest we Forget…

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… February 24th saw the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s largest country by landmass, and a European war which has cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides, and Europe's largest refugee and IDP crisis since World War II. But remember, the Ukrainians have been at war with Russia for 8 years, since February 2014, when they illegally annexed The Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk in the Southern Donbas, claiming them as ‘Federal Districts’.

Earlier in February I was honoured to be The City’s Civic Representative in a delegation to Ukraine alongside the CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce, Richard Burge, and Tom Sleigh, CC Chair of The Barbican.  Our visit had two overriding objectives. First, to demonstrate solidarity with the business community of Ukraine through their Chambers of Commerce and the governance of the Cities of Kyiv and Lviv; and secondly, to begin the campaign for London as ‘the global city of choice’ for the business sector of Ukraine as they switch their focus from Russia to the West.

After a journey lasting two days, we arrived safely in the capital Kyiv, which despite frequent missile attacks, blackouts, and curfews, is very much still open for business. We received a massive and heart-warming reception throughout and witnessed first-hand the continued resilience of Ukraine and engaged with many incredibly innovative firms. Businesses not looking for handouts… but for partnership.

Our first meeting was with the Ukraine Chamber of Commerce where an MOU was signed between the London and Ukraine Chambers. We heard from the burgeoning IT sector, especially cyber and blockchain specialists, which is still growing despite the war; the Retail Association; and investment strategists. Senior officials present included the advisor on Europe from the Office of the President, the Head of the National Security and Defence Council, an advisor to the Ukrainian Parliament with responsibility for European Integration, and the Deputy Director from the DTI from our Embassy.

That evening I joined a panel discussion at the Kyiv Business School which followed a brilliant keynote speech by Richard Burge of LCCI. Despite the event taking place in bunker as a curfew had been imposed, the discussion was lively and in depth.

The next day we benefitted from an excellent briefing from the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Development at the Ukraine Chamber of Commerce and very positive post discussion on areas of mutual co-operation and need. That evening, with the help of our hotel’s generators because of a blackout, we were also able to give an update webinar on our trip to UK influencers.

The next day, unfortunately, the great news emerging from the Ramstein talks of the provision of tanks had the expected response from the Russians. The Ukrainians managed to shoot down 45 of the 57 missiles, but some got through- to Kyiv amongst other places, where our delegation had just left. 

Upon arrival we met with the Governor of the Lviv District. He has control over all the civilian and military aspects of the area. Lviv saw their population increase from 2.7 to 3.1m, with some 600k Internally Displaced Persons to be cared for. He emphasised that Ukrainians ‘…are mentally part of the European World, not Russian” and that Ukraine is open to new markets. Indeed, the area has more than 300 exporters who are seeking a network of ‘real partners’ to work with. The key issues, as ever, are around gaining military risk insurance, raw materials, energy and the defence industries.

An air raid meant that we had to meet the Mayor of Lviv in his bunker. We were all amazed by his creation of the ‘Unbroken’ Centre at the Lviv hospital. The war has generated over 5m internally displaced persons (IDPs), many requiring medical attention. In Lviv, 5k people needed prosthetics, so he set up a bionic prosthetic unit who can make these rapidly on site. This has been followed by building a mental trauma health centre, an ‘Unbroken’ mother’s centre, special accommodation for 700 IDPs and a second seven storey rehabilitation centre. Remarkable.

We then had the privilege of visiting the Unbroken Centre, including its underground facilities. It has dealt with over 500k people, 11k needing critical care.

Subsequently it was great to meet with experts from the energy sector and realise the potential for energy storage Ukraine has for Europe.

Before we left for Poland, we paid a poignant final visit in Lviv to the beautiful and ancient Cathedral, with all its external monuments and stonework wrapped to protect them from explosion damage. It continues to provide a source of spiritual strength for many. 

It was an emotive, but entirely heart-warming and productive trip. As the war now enters its second year and into a decisive stage, we must all turn our attention to Ukraine’s economic transformation and reconstruction and support their businesses to ensure they can build their economy again once hostilities have ceased.

I know the City of London Corporation, and The City’s business community will continue to do all it can to support Ukraine and stand up to Russian aggression. It is, after all, entirely in the West’s best interests.

Sheriff Andrew Marsden