Euro 2012, my Life in, and Best Work from Ukraine, Before the War

As the draw for the World Cup 2018 has just finished, throwing up a favourable draw for England, I couldn’t help but reflect on the run-up to Euro 2012 – the main reason I moved to Ukraine in the first place, sensing an exciting time to be in a country in the build-up to a major football tournament, with opportunities in journalism to be found.

In I worked at the magazine What’s On in Kiev, 2011, and 12. Their website was down for ages, but recently came back to life. And with it, not all, but 90 of my articles from that time.

Looking back over them, and not only, I can hold my hands up and say that ‘pre-war’, I perhaps did write a bit too much about the ladies. But, it was a different time, and far from just that, I’m actually proud of a lot of the work I did back then, although in the context of things now, they are rather like ‘notes from a lost country‘…

So here’s a ‘top 10’ of my work from Ukraine, pre-war: 

10. The Pain of Ukraine? 

My first article for What’s On magazine, January 2012, and it was about defending Ukraine from the attacks and prophecies of doom in the western media –

9. Remembering River Palace

From October 2012, I had a look into the murky history, and mystery, of the former ‘floating brothel’ of Kiev, River Palace, for the Kyiv Post –

8. Tracking down Tymoshenko 

February of 2012, and I went looking for Tymoshenko in Kharkov, with some interesting results –

7. That Said – 

My weekly column from What’s On, in which I tried to cover all aspects of life in Ukraine. From all of them, I pick this one to represent how it was to live in Ukraine, at that time, the spirit –

6. Ok, it was a bit light-hearted, but you could hardly be in Ukraine pre-war, and not write about the sexual side of things. This piece, a cover-story for What’s On, was about the men who came to Ukraine expressly to pick-up women, and how that was working out for them – I liked how it came out, and felt it made a point –

5. Odessa – from March of 2012, my first trip to Odessa, for a travel piece for What’s On – it was to be love at first sight, in Odessa, something captured here –

4. Dnepropetrovsk – Always Parus 

I wrote this for my blog, and it was a labour of love, one of my the themes which most drew me in Ukraine, on which I wrote extensively – abandoned buildings, and the story behind them –

3. The Russian Heart of Ukraine – in which I wrote of my own experience of visiting Donetsk in summer of 2012, for What’s On magazine, and the Russian heart of that city, and not only –

2. November 2012, for Pravda and I wrote about the post Euro-2012, post 2012 election malaise which had befallen Ukraine, and the state of the country at that time –

1.  In October of 2012, I wrote what I believe to be my most significant pre-war piece from Ukraine, about the case of Oksana Makar, her tragic murder, and the implications for Ukraine (a case I continued investigating, going to her hometown of Nikolaev), here for the New Statesman

And there we have it, some of my essays from a different time, a different world. 

Ukraine and the New Saakashvili Maidan the West is Staying Silent about

When Euromaidan kicked off almost exactly 4 years ago in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, you could hardly move for western correspondents there covering it, telling us all about the heroic protesters wishing to overthrow the awful regime of Yanukovych and his government (both, democratically elected, btw) –

What happened next? Maidan and the west got their way, Yanukovych and his government were booted out, the west’s people were installed. What happened after Poroshenko Ukrainethat? Well, going on 4 years of chaos, inflation, unemployment, in Ukraine, and war in Donbass, of course. All of which the west have been a bit shy in telling you about, given it’s their guys at the wheel….

All of this has contributed to 80% of Ukrainians now being against president Poroshenko, again, something the western press are strangely reticent to report on. Actually, there’s a long list of things the west would rather you didn’t know about their new Ukraine. Such as this, on October 14th, that open neo-Nazis now brazenly march through Kiev in their thousands –

And that shortly after that, the new Maidan kicked off in Kiev, spearheaded by former Saakashvili UkraineGeorgian president (now wanted on high-level charges there), recently of a disastrous reign as governor of Odessa, even more recently, September, simply barging over the Ukrainian border. Since that September border-barge, Saakashvili has been on a trouble-making tour of Ukraine, as he attempts to topple incumbent president Poroshenko.

All of which has left the western press in a bit of  dilemma. Who to support – the western installed uber pro-west Poroshenko, or the darling of the west, wanting-to-be-western-installed Saakashvili, who has even gone to far as to be sleeping in the tents on the new Maidan. All of which would surely be screaming for sympathetic western media coverage. Yet, Saakashvili is going up against their man. So he’s out of luck. No fawning western coverage this time, no glorious new Maidan for him. Almost no western press coverage at all.

Saakashvili PoroshenkoThis has left Saakashvili rather pathetically pleading with the Ukrainian people to protect him against Poroshenko’s apparent wish to deport him back to Georgia. Meanwhile, Ukrainian ultra-nationalists storming and attempting to occupy a court in Kiev similarly find themselves out of luck – the west only supported that in Ukraine in 2013, guys. Now, the west supports Poroshenko, who seemingly entirely without irony, or memory, is attempting to deport the tent-dwelling Saakashvili for his attempt in an ‘illegal overthrow of government’. 

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine is certainly never boring. Not so much a car crash, as a neverending demolition derby.

Interviews with Ukrainians on Crimean Beaches…

All of the propaganda about Crimea this summer, and yet how was it, really? Here, the words of Ukrainians, on holiday in Crimea, Russia:

Here, a ‘pro-Ukraine’ lady, from Kiev, on holiday in Crimea, gives her view:

Here, ladies from Kharkov:

The words of real people, real Ukrainians, versus the wall of western, Ukrainian propaganda…

Ukraine’s Kiev Falls into World’s Least Liveable Cities… and the Diplomatic Reaction…

What was Kiev like pre-Euromaidan? I lived there myself for 2 years, worked at a magazine in the city, knew the city well:

It was a good place to live, had cleaned its act up in the run up to Euro 2012, along with all the new infrastructure that had gone with that. Fancy hotels were opening, I even reviewed one on a gig, investment was rising. Things were fine.

What’s happened to Ukraine, post-Euromaidan? Economic collapse, national debt is rising, corruption is rising, corruption is institutionalisedUkraine has become kind of a dumping-ground for ex-jihadists, can’t even get Ryanair to fly into it, economy run by ‘economic hitmen‘, has become either one of, or even the poorest country in Europehealth system in crisis, an unreformed penal system, a tuberculosis epidemic

There are things like the ongoing farce with Saakashvili. He’s the governor of Odessa Poroshenko ally, then he’s not. Then he’s an opposition leader. Then he’s had his Ukrainian passport revoked. Then he’s in the USA telling everyone about how awful Ukraine is (but, Russia is ‘worse’, of course). Then he’s in Poland saying he’ll come and rescue Ukraine… it goes on, and on ….

And to add to that, Ukraine’s capital Kiev has now plunged into one of the 10 Least Liveable Cities in the World – Economist Intelligence Unit finds –

10. Kiev, Ukraine47.8/100 points. The capital of Kiev saw the biggest decline in terms of liveability — 21.4 points — of all 140 cities surveyed. It is the also the only European city in the 12 that scored below 50 points. The city is still in a recovery that remains under threat from unrest, economic instability, and the ongoing civil war taking place in the Donbass region.

Occupying the next places, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe. What does the UK’s LGBT-obsessed ambassador Judith Gough have to say to this? It’s hard to agree – I see that Kiev is getting better, not worse! 

In diplomatic world, as ever, bad = good where Ukraine is concerned….

UK Ambassador Judith Gough: Having a Gay Time in Ukraine, while War in Donbass Goes On

The UK has had a particularly poor record with recent ambassadors to Ukraine. Simon Smith, in position between 2012 and 15, showed little real interest in the position, and his contribution amounted to little more than mouthing along with, and retweeting handed-down rhetoric:

Smith’s farewell tweet in September of 2015 gathered a paltry 25 retweets as he slipped out of position, just as he’d generally slipped under the radar in his weak, prematurely ended tenure –

Smith, who had clearly just been punching his timecard, was replaced by Judith Gough, (Wikipedia): born 1972, educated at the University of Nottingham (BA German and Russian, 1995) and at King’s College London (MA War in Modern World, 2012). She then worked as a Consultant in Emerging Markets and Financial Services at Ernst and Young.

Gough joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2001. Gough then served at the British embassy in South KoreaStarting from mid-September 2010 she was Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Republic of Georgia, and served as such till she was released of her post early 2013.

She then became FCO’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In September 2015 Gough was appointed Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Ukraine.

Gough is openly lesbian and raises two children with her partner, Julia Kleiousi.

Gough began her tenure, in September 2015, with a tweet clearly meant to show that a stronger, more forceful player was in town:

And she’s continued in that vein. Endless tweets, retweets (as here) about Crimea, how it’s ‘Ukraine’ and everything there is ‘worsening’ etc etc – despite making no effort herself to ever actually visit Crimea, which she freely could.

Of course, the retweets about Boris Johnson and his parroting of ‘Russian aggression’ – 

Endless tweets about the ‘heroism of Maidan’ –

And Gough loudly trumpets UK and Ukrainian military cooperation, tweeting this out last month –

Gough is indeed very hawkish about UK / Ukraine military cooperation, and the UK’s recent pledge to increase that, tweeting on at every opportunity. 

What Judith doesn’t tweet: 

Anything about Ukraine’s ongoing shelling of civilian areas of Donbass

Anything about the general disorder in Ukraine, actions of the far-right, radicals, and so on. About this recently in Lvov, for example: Vandals Caught On Video Drawing Swastikas On Ukraine Holocaust Memorial

Nothing about that on Judith’s feed. And while the Campaign for the Protection of Journalists was writing criticising Ukraine for the lack of any result in the investigation into the murder of Pavel Sheremet, on July 12th, Judith was tweeting:

Gough, perhaps predictably, tweets lots about reform. Yet, it’s clear that neither ‘reform’ in Ukraine, nor recycling of endless anti-Russian propaganda is what really interests the 44-year-old is a theme closer to home. Judith clearly sees herself, as the UK’s first openly gay international diplomat, as a crusading figure for openly gay people in senior positions, a perception perpetuated by puff pieces such as this March 2016, adoring interview by Buzzfeed.

All of which would be fine, and wonderful, if Judith were doing a good job, which she’s not. At best, she’s just passing on UK propaganda. But worse, her aggressive tweets of stepped up UK military intervention push peace further from the agenda. And more’s the argument that Gough’s sexuality is perhaps not paramount in her position as ambassador to a country locked in ongoing civil war. Yet, since June 1st, Judith has tweeted, retweeted, over 15 times about issues relating to LGBT, but only 3 about Donbass….

Putting her LGBT activism to one side, looking through Gough’s Twitter, it’s clear that she’s fallen victim to the standard ambassadorial pitfall – virtue signalling charity events at the ambassador’s residence, in Kiev, from July 19th –

In fairness to Gough, in June she did actually visit Kramatorsk, Donbass, yet there’s no indication she spoke to anyone there, other than the inevitable NGO’s –

Before publishing this, I had a final look at Gough’s Twitter feed. Her last tweet was 2 days ago, a retweet:

Gough’s homosexuality and accent on that may actually be a blessing, as her focus on LGBT activism at least limits the harm she is doing in her position as UK ambassador to Ukraine.  Yet when history is written, it’s hard to believe that even the LGBT community will review Gough kindly. 

Updates (#5) I’ve Got a New Russian Visa, and all getting a Russian visa…

Graham Phillips

I’ve wrapped the Brexit reportage project, and have spent this last week travelling around the Netherlands, working on MH17, and more. More on that to come soon. For now…

With the inevitability of Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces casting up Fortuna, the BBC’s useful idiot Daniel Sandford likes to cast things up which supposedly indicate my ‘connection to Russia’ etc. Back in March, as I was deported from Latvia, Dan was suspicious about my ‘multi-entry visa’ from Russia.

Screenshot (180)

Well, that one has expired now in any case, and, after application I received a new Russian, multi-entry visa, last week. So I’d like to tell you quickly, it’s neither suspicious as Sandford makes out, or like this, as a Twitter wag conjectured:

Getting a tourist visa to visit Russia is simple for anyone. Getting a multi-entry, one-year visa which allows you to work is a more involved process, and without the right know-how, it can even be rather complicated. Last year in London in March of 2015, back from near 7 months in Donbass, I set about making my first application for a multi-entry Russian visa.

Before this, I’d only had tourist visas for Russia, my trips there in 2009, 2011, and 2014, well that was a bit different. July 2014 saw me deported from Ukraine after being captured by Ukrainian forces while covering war at Donestk airport. They detained me for 3 days, then deported me into Poland, for some reason, banning me for 3 years for my work supposedly ‘supporting terrorism’ – i.e. telling the side of the war in Donbass they didn’t want to be told.

RT then immediately called from all sides telling me they wanted to ‘fly me to Moscow‘ etc etc. But that turned out to be false, or they were even just lying to me. All RT wanted to do was keep me onside with them to record an interview about my release, for which they booked a tv studio in Warsaw and made a huge deal of.

Then, after that, despite knowing I was left Poland, car, along with many of my belongings stolen by Ukrainian forces, little money it was ‘goodbye Graham, we won’t be needing you any more.’ They not only withdrew all visa support, they let the Russian embassy in Poland know about this, and they promptly refused to give me any visa at all.

So it was, cut off, hung out to dry in Warsaw, I made the call – got on the next flight to London, got a one-entry tourist visa, in one day, next flight to Moscow, Lugansk Blockadedown to Rostov, and crossed over into Lugansk (photo, arriving in an abandoned city, booming with shelling), at that time under blockade, going on to spend the next near 7 months in Donbass, ultimately making an exceptional application to Russia to let me leave via Russia, as clearly Ukraine was no longer an option, I was banned from there, and death threats emanating from there ever-growing.

So it was, I left in March 2015, was back in London looking to get a new multi-entry visa so I could return to work in Donbass, entering through Ukraine clearly now not an option as per the above. In the first place, I didn’t exactly know where to begin, all those who’d so confidently said ‘we’ll help you out‘ suddenly rather slower to reply to messages.

Anyway, I googled, explored all the options, and couldn’t really find a way how a freelance journalist, not contracted to any company, could get a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia. It was rather a strange situation, people from a Russia which appreciated me as the ‘western journalist telling the truth about Donbass‘, or even just not be a Russophobe, as is the standard for most western journalists writing on Russia – Luke Harding, the above Daniel Sandford, and on – kept writing to me expressing gratitude and invitations to Russia.

In this time also, March to April of 2015 in London, Russian media kept calling me, asking me for Skype interviews and so on, which sometimes I did, others not. Graham LondonBut, the truth behind it all was that all of March I had no idea how I’d get a Russian visa to even return. Well, in March, April, I started casting the net out. Of course, it wasn’t all visa application, this photo from a day out at one of my favourite places to visit in London, Greenwich.

In April of 2015, I eventually found a contact in Russia, Sergey, who ran a news agency which had used several of my videos in the past. From early Facebook forays, Sergey indicated he may be able to help. And, unlike so many others, followed up on this with a letter, and documentation supporting my application for a Russian multi-entry visa, to work as a freelance, independent journalist.

However, in the first place, my multi-entry one year visa application didn’t quite go through, and I was instead given a three-month, double-entry visa. So, in May of 2015, I embarked on that for a then near-3 month working trip to Donbass, by this time already simply working for myself, via crowdfunding, earnings from YouTube.

HelsinkiIn this time, Sergey went to bat for me again, and in July of 2015, I left Donbass to go to Helsinki (pictured) to apply for what would be my first multi-entry Russian visa. Why Finland? Well, it couldn’t be Russia, Helsinki was easy to fly to, and there it was where I waited a few nice, slightly boring if I’m being honest, days while my application went through.

Go through it did, first multi-entry visa for Russia issued, and in August of 2015 I was off to do my Crimea project of that year, then staying working in Donbass, and Russia, until late May of 2016. I was then back in the UK until leaving last week to start work on my MH17 documentary (more on that soon), and, like last time, applied for another multi-entry Russian visa, with Sergey’s support. Still, filled out all the paperwork, as last time, paid the visa fees, as last time, but, a bit easier this time, it all went through ok, and last week I was issued with a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia.

So, what to say about applying for a Russian visa – there’s a process to go through, and it’s not necessarily the easiest, in terms of you do need pretty concrete documentation. However, it’s certainly both do-able, and possible, and the embassy, visa centre have in my experience always been professional. There are various agencies online who say they they can provide this, but, I don’t know Graham Russian Visaabout that or them enough to advise. Also of course, if you work for a company, teaching English etc, they’ll sort this out.

Getting a visa, which allows you to work, for a year is a pretty big deal, for any country. I’d advise in the first instance, visiting Russia on a tourist visa, and making enough connections to allow for those whose pledges of assistance will not quite stand up to requests for that to really happen. I could end this with a screenshot of the chap whose firm assurances of assistance subsequently gave way to ‘write to Ramzan Kadyrov on Facebook’.

But, I’ll simply say this, it should never have been necessary for me to get a Russian visa to work in Donbass. If Ukraine were a normal country, I’d still be able to go there to work, travel to Donbass through Ukraine, and would certainly do so. If I were a BBC journalist, be sure the FCO would have stood up for me when deported, rather than pretended they didn’t even know me.

Here’s the truth about Ukraine – any journalist working there is only doing so because they dutifully pump out the Kiev line. And for the rest of us? Well, I’m grateful that Russia, where I’ll also be doing reportage, is a country which allows independent journalism, enables it by giving visas, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to work over there.

Useful links – 

Visa policy of Russia

VFS – Russian Visa Application Centre

An example of Russian visa support site