Monday. 31/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Keep calm and carry on

It will be hard to identify with the mindset of the average Ukrainian if you haven’t lived near a conflict zone yourself. Writer and philosopher Volodymyr Yermolenko perhaps summed it up best by saying that Ukrainians have long accepted a “dual reality”: they shrug and go about their daily lives but always with an awareness that normality could be taken away at any moment. It’s why so many here, including president Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured) – who on Friday criticised the foreign media and leaders for exaggerating the threat from Russia – have conflicting feelings about the sudden rush of global attention. A few examples from on the ground in Kyiv:

  1. Residents of Ukraine’s capital welcome the international community’s support but they’re equally eager to point out that they’ve lived with the threat of a Russian invasion (and indeed have actually been invaded in the east) for the past eight years. So why the support only now?

  2. Military-minded volunteers who train every Saturday for Kyiv’s territorial defence force want to send a message to Russia that they’re ready to fight (some 30 per cent of Ukrainians say that they’ll take up arms in the event of an invasion). But many seemed angry at the sudden glaring media eyes distracting them from their training.

  3. Expats and businesspeople living here are eager to stay. They continue to launch new projects in the city and have developed an affinity with Ukraine and its people. But they worry that the current tensions are scaring away foreign investment and preventing new expats from coming here and falling in love with Kyiv as they have.

  4. Ukrainian officials acknowledge that there is the possibility of a full-scale invasion but say that the bigger threat is the “hybrid war”. Vladimir Putin is attempting to destabilise Ukraine by any means necessary: cyber attacks, downing infrastructure, misinformation that divides the nation. Putin’s goal, in their minds, is to break Ukraine’s resolve without ever actually having to invade.

  5. The eastern front is quiet. If anything, it’s “too quiet”, according to veteran war photographer Anatolii Stepanov, who has visited the front regularly over the past eight years. He fears that any invasion will only start once the West’s prying eyes disappear from the region; when we lose interest and shift our focus back to other global conflicts instead.

So how can the West best support Ukraine now? Security guarantees and military aid helps, of course, but this is a resilient and confident nation. What it really needs is for everyone else to get into the same dual-reality mindset that its people have been living with for eight years: don’t decide against visiting; don’t postpone a business venture; don't turn your back on its people. Acknowledging the threat yet carrying on as normal is the best way to help Ukraine resist and send a message of resolve to Vladimir Putin. Thereby, possibly, preventing a war.

Hear more from Christopher Cermak and Monocle 24's Paige Reynolds on the ground in Kyiv throughout the week on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / North Korea

Loss leader

The UN announced that it will soon be North Korea’s turn to chair the organisation’s annual disarmament conference – just as the rogue state launched its fifth and sixth missile tests this month. The forum, which is scheduled for May and aims to work towards complete elimination of nuclear weapons, is managed by a rotational system of 65 members, including North Korea. Among those not amused at the news is Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, whose executive director Hillel Neuer says that the appointment “will send absolutely the worst message”. His group is calling for Western countries to boycott the conference, following a precedent set in 2013 when Iran gained its presidency. The post is mostly formal but this development could hurt the UN’s image, revealing a contradiction behind some of its well-meaning inclusivity.

Image: Alamy

Heritage / Canada

Saving place

A patch of Montréal’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood looks set to be designated a heritage site in a bid to protect the area from redevelopment. The move was announced by Montréal’s mayor, Valérie Plante, and Québec’s municipal and provincial officials last week in response to concerns over the erosion of the district’s character. The new status will protect two buildings in particular: the factory containing one of Montréal’s most recognisable Asian food producers, Wing’s Noodles, which has operated in the city since the 1950s, and a former tobacco warehouse. While advocates for preservation and redevelopment often clash with one another, this move shows how valuable a nimble and responsive local government can be in protecting and defining parts of a city’s history, while encouraging development.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Belgium

Sketch book

Passport design has become a contentious topic in recent years, as countries vie to assert their patriotic virtue using small bound booklets. Belgium has decided to take a more animated approach than some. From 7 February, newly minted Belgian passports will feature illustrations of the country’s famous comic book characters on every page. For a small nation, it enjoys an unusual surfeit of such illustrated icons: Tintin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Bob & Bobette and Marsupilami all feature in the new design, which also incorporates the latest security and personalisation techniques such as invisible inks and holograms. Announcing the changes, foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmès says that the new design is, “an opportunity to highlight ‘the ninth art’, the comic strip, which is a central element of our culture and our influence abroad”.

Image: Alamy

Retail / UK

Counter revolution

The pandemic and online retail have taken a massive toll on the vitality of the UK’s high streets. But, fortunately, the death of bricks and mortar retail seems to have been greatly exaggerated. New research has found that the overall shop-vacancy rate across the country has declined for the first time since 2018. According to the study, carried out by trade group the British Retail Consortium in conjunction with the Local Data Company, the rate of shop vacancies across the UK was 14 per cent in the final quarter of last year – nearly one per cent lower than at the same time the year before. And while Omicron’s effect on the number of shop closures is still unclear, analysts are hopeful that the trajectory will remain positive. “This is the first real indication that the most significant structural effects of the pandemic are potentially at their peak for certain regions and operators,” says Lucy Stainton, director of the Local Data Company. “Landlords and local governments alike can start to rebuild after a particularly turbulent period.”

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Stack

100 years of the BBC

We speak with David Hendy, author of The BBC: A People’s History. Plus: we meet Dana Pavlychko of Ukrainian photography magazine Saliut.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle’s digital decency manifesto

Technology is everywhere but that ubiquity can come at a cost to our health, wellbeing and the quality of our conversations. View our manifesto for a more dignified relationship with all things digital and learn to be kinder and more cautious online.

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