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Bring back the Ukrainian bling

The EBRD, which has forecast a drop in GDP of some 30 percent in 2022 for Ukraine is to decide on the size and scope of redevelopment investment for Ukraine, on top of the 2 bn euro resilience package already pledged.

While the Moroccan city of Marrakesh is proudly hosting the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development meeting for the first time, giving the country a chance to showcase its many attributes, including its tourism industry which was devastated by COVID-19 lockdowns, the Rabat government’s economy is not the main item on the agenda.

The forecast for Ukraine in 2022 is grim. A thirty percent decline this year, bearing in mind that the territory affected produces some 60 percent of its output. The Bank’s 73 nation shareholders body has to come up with further support and rebuilding plans for the 41-million strong nation, where an estimated 14 million people have been displaced. A resilience plan of EUR 2 billion has been set aside. When The Bank’s President Odile Renaud-Basso addresses the conference later this week, more funding will hopefully have been decided upon.

The EBRD is a development bank for Central and Eastern Europe set up in 1991. It expanded into the southern shores of the Mediterranean basin in the heady days of the Arab Spring in 2011, at a time when it seemed as if the Central European story of success had already been told.

The EBRD has 510 projects in Ukraine with EUR 16.5 billion cumulative investment. But now, with an estimated 2.6 million Ukrainians currently in Poland, as well as war refugees who have flooded into Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary and onward to other destinations in Europe, the rebuilding of the economy after the war will be necessary. But it will ultimately be a lucrative business.

Watching this year’s conference online I am reminded of my second ever trip to Kiev in 2007, when the city was the host of the EBRD Meeting. I remember the then Prime Minister Julia Tymoschenko’s rousing speech in lyrical, lilting Ukrainian, which to the ear of a Polish and Russian speaker sounds a better version of both.

I recall being brushed aside by the security cordon guarding President Yushchenko, her fellow Orange revolution leader, who had survived a poisoning attempt on his life. He was arriving at a cultural event in the city’s rebuilt Arsenal Building, along with former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who had been a key negotiator bringing Yushchenko and his probable assailant Viktor Yanukovych to the table in 2004. A year later he stood with Polish President Lech Kaczyński in Tbilisi protesting the Russian invasion of South Ossetia.

I remember talking to some stoney faced Nordic development bankers who had already read the balance sheets of the financial world that was about to implode that autumn. They were disgusted. There was a chatty but enigmatic Englishman from a financial security firm that was splattered on a Moscow street the next year.

A friend of mine says that international conferences like that are the only time finance people get to feel like rock stars. But the debutante of the 2007 show was Kiiv. Twenty years after my first visit, just nine months after Chernobyl, the city which had been bruised and uncertain, was brash and resplendent. Kyiv Rus and the Orthodox Church builders that followed liked their bling. Khreshchatyk, the main thoroughfare was buzzing. Take Warsaw, give the colour scheme and the river some steroids, multiply it by three, add some of Rome’s hills and the world’s top catwalks’ beauties and you are getting close to the idea of its dynamism-even then. It must be even better now. All we need is peace, money and imagination. And to return there.

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