Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev by Andrey Kurkov:
Monday 24 March
All the same, life in Kiev has more or less gone back to normal. As well as the weather forecasts, Kievites are also carefully following the news each morning on the exchange rates of the dollar and the euro. In spite of promises to open the European market to Ukrainian goods, the hryvna continues to fall. For now, the trend cannot yet be described as catastrophic, but it is certainly not encouraging. Rallies involving pro-Russian forces continue to be held in the south and east of Ukraine, but they are attracting far fewer people. Several major operations by Ukrainian security services – which ended with the arrests of Russian secret service agents in possession of weapons and money intended for separatists – have reassured the east’s inhabitants about the SBU and the police’s determination to genuinely defend the state in Russian-speaking regions. Members of Pravy Sektor and self-defence groups, who took part in the Euromaidan movement, continue to enroll in the National Guard, which is already assisting the border guards in their task in the east and north of the country. The flow of contraband over the Russian–Ukrainian border has suddenly fallen tenfold, and in certain areas has dried up altogether. Many people in border villages are extremely unhappy, as they have lived off this illegal activity for more than twenty years. But it appears that the border will no longer be transparent. An increasing number of politicians are talking of the need to introduce a system of visas with Russia. If Europe does indeed get rid of visas for Ukrainians over the next two years, then the visa system with Russia will become a reality. That will not please the inhabitants of eastern Ukraine, of course, who are used to going to Russia on a regular basis for work. But there can be no return to the old ‘good neighbours’ policy. That is clear. Personally, I am not frightened by the possible introduction of a visa system with Russia. What frightens me is a possible Russian intervention in the east and south of the country. It would be wonderful not to have to think about the possibility of a war, but a day has not passed without that possibility crossing my mind. Even the first stirrings of spring – the earth warmed by the sun, the flowers suddenly blooming – are not enough to distract me from politics. I would dearly love to turn away from it, though. And I am not the only one.