Europe

East or West? Contrasting faces of Ukraine

  • 27 November 2013
  • From the section Europe
Refrigerators plant in Donetsk
Donetsk's refrigerators factory is heavily dependent on the Russian market

When I arrive in Donetsk, it feels like I've come to a Russian town. Many of the shop signs are in Russian. So is the chatter in the streets.

There's even a Russian revolutionary in the main square: Vladimir Lenin in the form of a statue.

But this is eastern Ukraine: the country's industrial heartland, which has close geographical and economic ties to Russia.

I visit the local fridge factory: it's been pumping out appliances since Soviet times. Europe doesn't buy many of them.

So, like many companies in eastern Ukraine, the factory is heavily dependent on the Russian market.

That is why they're rather cool here to the idea of EU integration. The factory fears that a free trade deal with Brussels would result in trade barriers to the east.

They've calculated that, overnight, their fridges would become 35% more expensive in Russia. They would be priced out of the market.

"Russia's much more important to us right now than Europe," says Oleg, one of the workers, "And we don't want those links broken."

Earlier this month, the factory's owner, Valentyn Landyk, called on President Viktor Yanukovych to delay signing the association agreement with the EU.

Kiev has now put that deal on hold. The decision sparked anger among EU supporters on the streets of Kiev and other cities.

But Mr Landyk, who is also a Ukrainian MP, is relieved.

"Everyone here wants to live to the standard of Europeans," Mr Landyk assures me.

"But first we need to work hard to achieve that level. No-one is going to give us any help. We need to build up our industry, our agriculture, and create more jobs. Then we can choose who to make a deal with. "

Donetsk is closer to Moscow than to Brussels. For anyone with a business here, good relations with Russia are vital.

'No illusion'

Andriy - like many other western Ukrainians - says the future lies in the EU

About 700 miles (1,126km) west of Donetsk, it's a different story.

In the town of Lviv, western Ukraine, high above Rynok Square two trumpeters herald the hour.

As I stroll around the square, I see Renaissance, Baroque and Classical architecture. It feels like the heart of Europe.

That's hardly surprising: this town was once under Polish rule; it was part of Austria-Hungary too - long before it was claimed by the Soviet Union.

I visit the Catholic cathedral in Lviv. Inside, there's a baptism taking place. The baby is given the name Francis, in honour of the Pope.

After the service, his father Andriy tells me that Ukraine should move closer to Europe and become less dependent on Russia.

Ukrainian businesses are already trying to expand into the EU

"If we keep taking the bread which Russia hands out to us," Andriy says, "we'll just keep coming back for more. We'll never be our own masters."

A short drive from Lviv, I find one Ukrainian company which has moved closer to Europe: a fruit juice manufacturer that has expanded into Poland.

Its director, Taras Barshchovsky, believes that Europe can help Ukraine improve its laws and tackle corruption.

But he is under no illusions about the European Union.

"We must remember that Europe is no St Nicholas or Maltese Cross Relief Agency," Mr Barshchovsky says. "Europe takes an interest in Ukraine because it benefits, too."

In the centre of Lviv, several hundred people gather to demand that the Ukrainian authorities sign the frozen agreement with Brussels.

As the national anthem is played, the demonstrators unfurl a giant EU flag. They know exactly which path they want Ukraine to take.

But across the country, there is no consensus. Ukraine is torn between east and west.

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