Eyes Wide Shut

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Hello! My name is Alona Vvedenska and I’m Ukrainian. I worked as an Editor-in-Chief, PR Manager, and Copywriter in Ukraine in the past. The fact that I am now in Derbyshire I ‘owe’ to Putin and his war of aggression.

The Russian army attacked my beloved homeland, destroying entire towns with hurricane fire and brutality. On the 16th day of the war, my son and I were forced to leave Kyiv on an evacuation train with two small bags, escaping shelling and rockets.

And now I find myself in Derbyshire and part of the wonderful team at Nielsen McAllister.

I want to say that the experience of war is one that is incredibly difficult to put into words. Everything that seems impossible or unbearable to us in times of peace, becomes part of every day. Everything before that we thought hurt like an open wound, in fact, just ached. The war makes us feel like we have been burned with napalm. It’s a state where you are unable to feel normal, you feel either just ice or fire.

So, we arrived in the UK with the pain of war but with thanks in our hearts. A country I knew about and one I felt I already loved. You may ask ‘why?’ and ‘where did that love come from?’ Let me tell you why and what I have experienced so far.


What the UK looks like to a Ukrainian

So, ‘Eyes Wide Shut…’ These words could describe the feelings of someone, such as me, who was born in the Soviet Union and graduated at the University of Independent Ukraine about their view on the UK. For Ukrainians the country has always been like a bright and attractive picture of publicity but one that felt like under lock and key, beyond the average Ukrainian. Getting into the UK, even as a tourist, was like a dream for us. It was like the possibility that I would be lucky enough to dance with Jude Law or Colin Farrell!

Naturally, Ukrainians have studied world history and have a general idea of ​​the intricacies of the family trees of the Tudors, Stuarts and Windsors. However, for the majority of the Ukrainian population, Great Britain is mostly from our school English textbooks: grandfather smokes a pipe, grandmother knits a stocking, mother drinks tea, father reads a newspaper, the dog lies by the fireplace, and everyone eats pudding. Oat-flakes in the morning and 5 o’clock tea (since being in the UK, I’ve learnt that it’s often G&T o’clock, and I much prefer this!). These are the standard associations born from our textbooks.

Most adult Ukrainians also view the institution of the British Monarchy with genuine interest. News about the UK Royal Family occupies the front pages of all Ukrainian media, and during my work as a magazine Editor-in-Chief, Princess Diana was dedicated a separate special magazine issue. We are an empathetic nation, which is why Ukrainians took the death of Princess Diana as a personal tragedy. Of course, we could not ignore such a tragic event and it was widely covered in our country.


British culture travels the world

Having a picture of the UK also involves its culture. From getting to know Sherlock Holmes, to events such as Wimbledon combined with the stories of King Arthur and all his knights, and personalities and characters such as David Beckham, James Bond, Miss Marple, Bridget Jones, Harry Potter and the mysterious community of ‘British scientists’ which open up to the world interesting and obscure findings! Such a mix, and yet such a vivid picture they paint of the UK.

The UK speaks to the world through its celebrities – whether they are great politicians, football players, book characters, musicians or actors. We read their thoughts and see the UK in quotes.

Alongside its people, the UK is also understandable to an ordinary Ukrainian, because the wars and grave historical developments have hardened our nations, which were forced upon us for the protection of our rights to life, liberty and truth.

As nations we have also bonded over our love of football. When England played against Italy at the UEFA Euro 2012 in Kyiv many may have feared the potential for hooliganism, but the Ukrainian and English fans united by their love for the game and beer, merged into one.


UK(ranian) heroes

Above all there is one British historical figure who we all recognise in the Ukraine. The author of unforgettable lines such as “People who have forgotten their past have lost their future”, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth”, Sir Winston Churchill was a personality whose impact on the world captivated Ukrainian people forever.

Only such a person, who turned his own weaknesses and the hostility of others into the strongest weapon, could change the course of history. He went from words to deeds quickly, in contrast to most politicians. Churchill’s words from his speech on 29th October 1941 are read by Ukrainians as they would the Bible: “Never give in – never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”.

Ukraine has lived by Churchill’s quotes. The fact that our country supports a pro-European course of policy, and resistance to the evil that Russia has been doing in our territory for the last twenty years, is largely due to his rhetoric.


We need to talk about Boris!

Well, now that I’m talking about controversial people… Do you know who is also a national hero in Ukraine? Boris Johnson. Several streets in Ukrainian cities are named after him and we have even named a cake after Johnson and made cute stuffed toys with his image. He is loved, quoted and called the new Churchill in Ukraine.

I know many have mixed feelings about Boris Johnson in the UK and, moreover, while I was writing this blog, he has even had to resign. However, from a Ukrainian perspective I can say that Johnson is an outstanding speaker for foreign policy, and he always kept the promises he made to Ukraine.

It was Boris Johnson who, from the beginning of Russia’s war with Ukraine, established the UK as country that would fight for justice, protection and the rule of law. So, I say ‘thank you for support, Johnsonuk!’, but will leave it there as I don’t want to risk losing some of you! 🙂


Two nations united

Nowhere else in the world have I met more open and friendly people. The people and their attitude towards the world are key to the image of the UK.

You are truly generous people!

Who donated millions to help Ukraine? The British public at every level. Who created the unprecedented Homes for Ukraine Scheme? The UK government. Who provided his Instagram feed to the head doctor of the Kharkiv Perinatal Center (Ukraine) so she could tell about the realities of Russia’s war and the fact that babies in Ukraine are born in bomb shelters? David Beckham! Who opened the doors of their homes to thousands of Ukrainian refugees? You! The generosity of the UK will forever remain in my mind.

I am drawn to the words expressed by another British programme that has travelled the world, “Are we to be friends, then? – We are allies, my dear, which can be a good deal more effective”. (‘Downtown Abbey’)

So, with the UK and Ukraine in my mind as allies I think again of our two nations and our perceptions. Do you know, what movie my friends and I went to see several times? ‘The Gentlemen’ by Guy Ritchie. Can you guess who our favourite Sherlock Holmes is? Benedict Cumberbatch! When the series with his participation showed on the Ukrainian TV channel, the streets of the cities were empty and, moreover, crime was decreasing! Do you know, what is the favourite Christmas movie for Ukrainian people? ‘Love Actually’.

From being in the UK for some months now, I have learnt it rains 200 days a year, ancient castles hide among the trees, double-decker buses drive down the streets, and at 5 pm you start to drink – sometimes tea, but often G&T! The air here is full of the echoes of the past. Beneath the leaden grey skies stretch wide fields of farms and in the suburbs, houses which look like one another line up as if they had jumped off the pages of fairy tale.

To finish I return to a quote from a film I have already mentioned. “Britain. We may be a small country, but we’re a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham’s right foot. David Beckham’s left foot, come to that. And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward I will be prepared to be much stronger.” (‘Love Actually’).

What better could I say about the UK?!

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