The Threat of a Russian Invasion Is Crushing Ukraine’s Economy and Culture
For years, the Closer nightclub in the Ukrainian capital has dominated Eastern Europe’s legendary dance scene. A guest performance by a pair of celebrated American DJs—planned for Feb. 12—would have placed the Kyiv techno bar firmly on the international stage.
However, U.S. intelligence is not always available. A day before, warned of an “imminent” Russian invasion of Ukraine, The Blessed Madonna and Honey Dijon pulled out at the last minute. The nightclub’s management scrambled to replace them with an artist from Germany—who also ultimately ended up canceling. “His wife forbade him from going to Ukraine,” says Closer’s technical director Sergii Vel, sounding weary. After months of challenges because of COVID-19, he’s now facing additional difficulties because of the growing threat from Russia. Even though Closer was able to host a small event last weekend with Ukrainian musicians and other performers, Vel said that he felt a sense of dread. “Our cultural sphere is greatly suffering,” he added.
Many feel particularly abandoned as the clouds of war loom above this nation of 40 million. While Moscow said this week that it had started withdrawing some of its 130,000 troops positioned close to Ukraine’s borders, Western countries maintain the possibility of a major Russian strike is high. On Friday, tensions rose after a Russian military coup. Donetsk was rocked by a car bomb, according to Russian state media, an area where Moscow-backed separatists were evacuating people to Russia—precisely the kind of incident Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned could be used to justify a Russian invasion. And though the West has so far united in their support for Ukraine—a crisis that “directly affects every member of [the U.N. Security] Council and every country in the world”, according to Blinken on Thursday—many Ukrainians feel that the incessant talk of war is already having a disastrous impact: isolating the country on various fronts, from its cultural heritage to the economy, and working in Russia’s favor.
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According to Volodymyr Shaiko, the Director General of Ukraine’s state-run Ukrainian Institute that promotes cultural diplomacy, Russian aggression against Ukraine extends beyond security and military dimensions. “Russia seeks to destabilize Ukraine and the international community with a wider arsenal… disrupting daily routines of Ukraine’s institutions and people,” he said in written answers to questions from TIME. He added that some of the Institute’s international partners are postponing cooperation until things “settle down.”
A series of cyberattacks have taken the sites of several major banks and the defense ministry of Ukraine offline over the past few hours. AutoritiesIn a statement, the Russian government was pointed out. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s saber-rattling has caused the national currency, the hryvnia, to plunge to a four-year low against the dollar. Dutch airline KLM halted flying to and over Ukraine, while Germany’s Lufthansa said it is considering a suspension. On February 14, two Ukrainian airlines including the flagship carrier Ukraine International Airlines, (UIA) stated that they faced difficulties. ProblemeSecure their insurance. International tourism is almost dead.
In the last week, embassies have been abandoning Kyiv as well as Dnipro (the eastern capital of Ukraine), which is located about 100 miles away from the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine. They are now in Lviv, Ukraine (near the Polish border), having decamped. The list is growing and includes Canada, Australia (USA), Germany (Netherlands), Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. In order to prevent any conflict with Russia, American and British military training missions had been cancelled.
Three years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky was elected on the promise of standing up to Russia. He has appealed repeatedly to Western leaders for help to reduce panic and even to stop it from getting worse. Ask President Joe Biden to visit Kyiv in order to “stabilize the situation.” Parliamentarian David Arakhamia, from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, said the talk of war is costing the Ukrainian economy around $2-$3 billion a month. Speaking on Monday on private TV channel 1+1, he said “when someone decides to move the embassy to Lviv, they must understand that such news will cost the Ukrainian economy.”
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Survey by The European Business Association in late January—two weeks before Washington warned that a ground invasion was near inevitable—found that 17% of over 130 member companies in Ukraine were already considering relocating to the west of the country, while 10% thought of leaving the country altogether.
Moscow’s residents have been openly celebrating. “The economy in Kyiv has been torn to shreds… a small matter, but pleasant,” Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the Kremlin-controlled RT television network, wrote on her Telegram channel.
Ukraine’s cultural figures and artists are especially concerned about being cut off from the world. Long viewed as key to countering a threat from its much larger neighbor, Ukraine’s arts and culture scene has undergone a revival over the past eight years. The Maidan Revolution of 2014 ultimately ousted the country’s pro-Russian leader and, while Russia annexed Crimea and war broke out in the country’s east between forces allied to Moscow and the Ukrainian government, much of Ukraine began to flourish as it embraced closer economic and cultural ties with Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin frequently This describes Ukrainians and Russians as one people, Kyiv’s cultural figures reject this as propaganda aimed at robbing the country of its identity and right to self-determination.
Now, more than 1,000 members of Ukraine’s cultural, artistic and scientific community have appealed to world leaders, in an open letterReleased by the Ministry of Culture and Information Feb. 13, which still has signatures. “Please understand that when music is playing, a movie is being shown, or an artist is painting a picture, the roar of guns doesn’t fit,” the letter read. “Your leaders say that they are for peace—so prove it.”
A sense of double reality is emerging in Kyiv as a result of the dramatic departures of diplomats and threats of invasions. In this city, preparations for war are mixed with everyday life. Over the Valentine’s Day holiday, Kyiv’s cafes bustled with people. Bars and clubs were filled with local comedians who railed about the rising tensions. While couples walked the picturesque banks of Dnieper, with some stopping for a swim in the cold waters, members of Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist paramilitary organization, performed exercises near them. “People need to learn about bomb shelters, teach each other first aid and weapons training,” said a tattoo-covered veteran in his 30s who declined to give his name. His front pocket was open when a ferret snuck out. “A big war could start this time.”
“Today we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” read a Statement this week from Ukraine’s only major photography festival, held each May in the Black Sea port city of Odessa since 2015. The team was still negotiating with foreign guests, but “cannot guarantee a big international event as we ourselves are trapped in this situation.” It added that this year’s event—its first in-person since the pandemic started—would instead be smaller and “cozy.”
Activist and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who spent five years in a Russian jail before his release in a 2019 prisoner swap, says Ukraine’s culture must be preserved at all costs. On Wednesday, Sentsov’s latest film Rhino“The film takes place in the 1990s Ukrainian criminal underworld. It was shown to packed theaters in Kyiv. And while the acclaimed filmmaker did not even think of canceling the premiere, the theater was secured with armed men in case of what he described as “provocations”, or staged violence from Russia. “We’ve had war for eight years now,” he says. “If we do not hold concerts or make films, then nothing makes sense.”
The team at Closer is asking for government financial assistance. Vel said they will continue to invite DJs from around the world to play on its cushion-filled floors, to prevent young people from being overcome by fear and to come to Kyiv—to see “peace and love in our clubs.”