‘Such Sharp Changes Look Very Unusual’Even Some Ukrainians Feel Sorry for Britain’s Political Shambles
Amid a misjudged social media endorsement of Boris Johnson by the Ukrainian Government, Chris York speaks to people in Kyiv about what they make of the UK’s political crisis
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“It’s very sad, I thought things like this only happened here in Ukraine.”
Sipping a cappuccino in a Kyiv café, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sasha is describing another country ravaged by war. But she’s not – she’s describing the ongoing shambles that is British politics right now.
“It’s such a shame,” she adds. “Here, we look up to Britain as a country that actually has its shit together.”
It says much about just how bad things are in the UK that people in a country that has seen two revolutions and an eight-year war with Russia in the past two decades are looking at the turmoil surrounding Liz Truss’ resignation and shaking their heads.
“To me, the UK has always looked like such a stable country so it’s surprising to hear that things are such a mess,” says Ilya as he smokes a cigarette with his friends outside a pub in central Kyiv. “Such sharp changes look very unusual.”
Even the Ukrainian Government – ever keen to make a meme from any occasion – mocked yesterday’s events with an ill-advised and since-deleted tweet with a parody of the television show Better Call Saul featuring Boris Johnson’s face and titled ‘Better Call Boris’, sparking a minor diplomatic scandal.
The sad fact is that many Ukrainians have long looked up to Britain as a political role model and the current situation is unsettling at best, with Truss’ record-breaking tenure as the shortest serving British Prime Minister in history still managing to shock people in a country that is no stranger to political instability.
“I have always believed that the UK has a long-lasting tradition of political parties and parliamentarism, and this political heritage amazed me,” Nataliia says. “And I wish we could build something like you have within Ukrainian political tradition.”
She believes Truss’ resignation to be “completely crazy” as “I can’t imagine how a politician can f*ck up everything in such a short period of time”.
Of course, there’s a good reason why Ukrainians are taking such a keen interest in events in the UK – which has taken a leading role alongside the US in supplying weapons, aid and support to bolster the country’s defence against Russia’s reinvasion.
While support for the Ukrainian cause is unlikely to shift direction even in the event of a general election and new government, the instability and frequent changes of leadership in Downing Street still make nervous viewing for Ukrainians watching from afar.
“The UK is our big and important partner in terms of military aid, helping to raise awareness in the world regarding the war and why it’s important to help Ukraine,” Oksana says. “We would be very disappointed if the new prime minister would have a weaker position on supporting Ukraine.”
Many Ukrainians are unfamiliar with the detailed workings of the UK political system, such as the situation it finds itself in now. After explaining how the last few prime ministers were selected, not by the general public, but by the Conservative Party, Ilya’s friend Ivan says: “Wow, it sounds a bit like in Russia.”
Meanwhile, in Russia itself, the news of Truss’ resignation was met with not a little glee. Referencing a viral Daily Star stunt featuring a lettuce that outlasted Truss’ premiership, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, tweeted: “Bye, bye Liz Truss, congrats to lettuce.”
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In a post on Telegram, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Britain had “never known such a disgrace as Prime Minister”. While a guest on a popular Russian TV talk show said that Truss had possessed three qualities that were essential for anyone partaking in British politics – “stupidity, arrogance, and belligerence”.
As Britain yet again waits to see who will be its next leader, the Ukrainians Byline Times spoke to are – like many in Britain – just hoping for a bit of stability.
“I hope that politicians stop being infantile and start behaving like adults,” says Nataliia. “But is it actually possible? I just hope that the situation in the UK gets back to normal as soon as possible, and your economy is not ruined.”
But, when pushed on whether or not they have a preference for who takes up residence in Downing Street, in Ukraine there’s one clear favourite.
“If you want to know my opinion, I can tell you Mr Boris Johnson is a very great person,” says Ilya. “And if I was a citizen of the UK, I would definitely give my vote and all my support to him.”