This week saw the prime ministers of three European countries – Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic – arrive by train to Kyiv, a city shelled by Russian artillery and terrorised by Russian saboteurs. What was the meaning of this gesture in an era when almost any kind of communication can be done online?
For us in Kyiv, one purpose was to show that rumours about our complete encirclement are greatly exaggerated. You can still come to the capital and feel relatively safe, just as you can arrange a big international meeting and conclude agreements with Volodymyr Zelensky. Despite the shelling, we in Kyiv continue defiantly to live, love, feel free, smile, walk the streets and savour a morning cup of coffee. Ukraine’s Armed Forces have managed to guarantee these simple but important things.
We also saw this visit as a mark of European solidarity, a return of central European politicians taking the lead and making historically significant gestures. It also served as a challenge to Russia’s understanding of history. For eight years, Russian propagandists have shouted at the top of their voices about the end of European history; fundamentally, they don’t want to see and understand their neighbours or the Ukrainian people. The solidarity, personal courage and symbolism of the central European leaders contrasted with the barbarism, ruthlessness and heavy-handedness of the Russian state.
Practically, the visit was also emblematic of new security alliances forming on the eastern borders of Europe: there’s the UK, Ukraine and Poland; there’s the Visegrád Four and Ukraine; there’s Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine; and now there’s Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Ukraine. Which of these configurations will be successful? We cannot know the exact answer. But, while thinking, reflecting and trying out different formats, we can’t forget about the most important goal: that of a free Europe.
Nikita Grigorov is a journalist currently based in Kyiv and originally from Donetsk.