A long, large mound of earth is often seen just outside hundreds of towns and villages in Ukraine.
The mounds cover the rudimentary mass burial of almost 4 million victims of the ‘Holodomor’ – the Ukrainian holocaust – in which Stalin surrounded, isolated and deliberately starved farmers to death in 1932.
This, more than anything, explains why Ukraine yearns to be free and does not – for one moment – think it is ‘part of Russia’, as Vladimir Putin believes. In the 1991 elections in Ukraine, every region voted to stay in Ukraine – even the predominantly ethnic Russian districts in the East.
But the Holodomor is not an isolated incident. Ten years earlier, in 1922, it had suffered another terrible famine following the Russian Civil War. Ukraine was also the worst affected part of Russia in WW1 and in the Soviet Union in WW2, when it lost another 4m people.
In addition, some 1.5m Ukrainians were murdered by Stalin’s NKVD in 1937-1939. When the NKVD left Kiev in 1941 as the German army arrived, they had murdered – brutally – all of the prisoners in the city jail.
Isn’t it time – surely – for the first generation of Ukrainians to enjoy some peace and independence?
The country, far from being a backwater, has considerable high potential. Ukraine was for decades not just the breadbasket of the Soviet Union but also a major science and engineering hub. The USSR depended on Ukraine for most of its jet engines, diesel engines and gas turbines – and Russia’s post-1991 development was slowed by the loss of these key components.
In 1992 I was one of the first western journalists to visit the enormous ballistic missile assembly plant in Dnipro, then named Dnipropetrovsk, a city now under imminent threat of capture by Russian forces.
Ukraine, once the world centre for CD and software pirating, is now a key site for gifted international software developers. Now living in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, Ukrainian-born cyber expert Dr Igor Kotsiuba has started Healthymity Ltd, which aims to support AI-led decision-making in medicine.
Ukraine is blessed with wonderful geography. Its huge rivers could be tapped for a huge increase in irrigation farming. One analyst claimed: ‘Ukraine could feed all of the Middle East and North America.’
Ports such as Odessa could become the quickest transit point for containers between Asia and central Europe. It has real tourism potential: Kyiv is the largest city in Europe between Paris and Moscow, with many UNESCO world heritage sites. Lviv, like Krakow, has one of the last surviving intact medieval city centres.
Its under-developed agriculture industry has long been eyed with interest by far-sighted British firms. The Forfar, Scotland-based company Central Plains Group (CPG) has been harvesting 40,000 tonnes of potatoes in Ukraine. CPG has raised £11m from investors for future projects in Ukraine. Sadly, much of Ukraine’s potato production is lost due to inefficient storage, poor disease and pest control.
Sergii Glazunov, CEO of Enwell Energy plc, said the AIM-listed company with three gasfields in Ukraine has ‘shut-in and made safe its production and drilling operations at its Ukrainian gas fields’, due to fears about the soon-to-arrive Russian forces.
Back in 2009 the University of Nottingham linked with a brilliant physicist Borys Glavin of the Lashkarev Institute of Semiconductor Physics in the Ukraine, who created a ‘saser’, or ultra-high intensity beam of sound waves, the ‘sonic equivalent to the laser’. It received a £636,000 grant from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop it.
A small company in Hampshire, Willingsford Ltd, sells a rapid healing cream named SertaSil – ideal for the healing of complicated, necrotic and infected wounds and burns. SertaSil’s story began in Ukraine, when three scientists – Olga Bilyayeva, Viacheslav Neshta and Alexander Golub – discovered a better product to heal wounds trapped by a biofilm, a protective environment that bacteria create to keep out the immune system.
Traditional heavy industry firms such as York-based Salvalco Ltd, which produces a uniquely effective aerosol valve, and the Hockley Heath, Birmingham-based firm Mayerton Refractories, both trade with Ukraine. Mayerton has even developed a 42-strong team in Russia and Ukraine.
Biggest of all, however, is Weir Minerals Europe Ltd, based in Todmorden, Lancashire, which in April 2021 agreed a £36m order for pumps and grinding rolls to Ferrexpo’s mining operations in Ukraine, whose output will be doubled to 80m tonnes.
Should the war end with Russian retreat – as we all surely hope – British firms can help with the rebuilding process within a potentially huge Ukrainian market.