Ukraine is not only a country with colorful history, it is world-famous also because of a series of contemporary political events centered there. Euromaidan, which started in late 2013, caught eyes worldwide, and opened a new page in the state’s political culture. Sadly, the country also lost hundreds of lives, as well as millions of tourists, due to their war for liberty and courageous fight for an identity as a member of the European community.
Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, has always been a critical part of the Ukrainian history, as well as the Russian history. In the 10th to 12th centuries, it has been the center of the whole East Slavic civilization. Perhaps St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery is the best illustration of the glorious past of the state. The Monastery is still functioning today, and it witnessed every historical moment in the city. It rings all the bells concurrently whenever the city is under desperate danger, on extremely rare occasions. When the Ukrainian Revolution started at the Maidan (Independence Square in Kiev) back in November 2013, the nearby Monastery rang all the bells during the police’s savage attempt to forcefully evict the protesters from the square. The last time the bishop gave such an order dated back to nearly 800 years ago in 1240, during the Mongol invasion.
The Decline of Ukrainian Tourism
Statistics do not lie, it provides irrefutable proof of the decline in number of tourists visiting Ukraine in 2014, after the Euromaidan and during the conflicts in Eastern Ukraine, in which Russia annexed Crimea from its neighbor. In 2014, the country only received 12 million foreign guests, only around half of the figure in the previous year. Visitors from literally all foreign countries were recorded to have fallen.
The decline was the most obvious in the figures concerning Russian tourists. The total number of Russian visitors fell from over 10 million to less than 1.6 million. The sharpest fall occurred in the category of “private visit”, which shrank from nearly 8 million to less than 2 million.
Similar situations are faced by Ukraine and Hong Kong, i.e. the conflict with a neighboring regime disrupted the prosperity in tourism industry. The revolutionary-minded faction of the public has been severely blamed for putting economic prosperity at stake, in exchange of some obscure concepts of “rights” and “democracy”. There is a valuable lesson for Hongkongers to learn from our Ukrainian friends.
I got the chance to speak with a Ukrainian friend, who was studying abroad during Euromaidan, with her family and friends directly participating in the revolution. She told me that although the fruits of the revolution remained unripe, most Ukrainians considered the movement worthwhile. “At least we have better freedom now, without the revolution, this would not have been possible,” perhaps a great proportion of Hong Kong people would have heartfelt concurrence with her.
Knowing that my friend worked in Verkhovna Rada for some time as an intern after Euromaidan, I was interested in how the Ukrainian Parliament led the country to endure the shivering cold winter for the country, and whether there were effective measures taken to revive the tourism industry. The experience of Ukraine was indeed inspiring for Hong Kong. In Mid-May 2017, i.e. just around a week ago, Kiev hosted the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, over 40 European countries sent contestants to compete in the Ukrainian capital, not to mention the influx of audience and the positive effect the Contest brought to the country’s reputation. “Unfortunately, unlike the western countries, there is a lack of information policy. We do not have TV Channels abroad, neither do we have money to spend on promoting tourism, not to mention that our neighbor, Russia is using propaganda to portray us as a dangerous destination,” this reminds me of the negative propaganda employed by pro-China netizens against Hong Kong back in 2014.
Speaking of the attractiveness of her home country, my friend was still very confident, “Actually the war is only ongoing in a very small region in Eastern Ukraine, it does not endanger the safety of tourists in a vast majority of cities.” The Ukrainians’ unbeatable perseverance is shown through the way they dealt with the removed dictator Yanukovych’s palace-like residence, Mezhyhirya Residence. Given its tremendous size (it is even larger than Monaco!) and haunting degree of luxury, the Ukrainians transformed it into a “Museum of Corruption” after Euromaidan, and successfully made it a popular tourist spot.
I sincerely look forward to the day when Hong Kong can also attract visitors not for the jewelry shops on Nathan Road, or the brand name stores on Canton Road, but because of sites marking the city’s transformation in political and social culture.
Yvonne is a law student at the University of Hong Kong. She is obsessed with travelling alone, and believes that learning the history and language is the best way to explore a place.