AMBASSADOR'S BLOG - CLOSER TO EUROPE IN SVERDLOVSK

31.05.10




What do a massive steelworks and children in traditional Ukrainian costumes have in common?  Answer: both feature in the second day of a visit by EU ambassadors to easternmost Ukraine.

After a visit to a coalmine the day before, on Friday I travel to Alchevsk to visit a steel mill.  The facility has a production capacity of around 6.5 million tons of steel a year, making it one of the largest in Ukraine.  The General Director explains recent investments to improve energy efficiency and the environmental performance of the plant which will reduce the use of natural gas by around 80%.  He then arranges for me to visit a blast furnace, the oxygen converter shop, and the continuous casting shed.  I'm grateful for the warm welcome – literally, at the blast furnace – and to hear about plans for reducing the environmental impact and energy consumption of a key Ukrainian industry.

In the afternoon I join other EU ambassadors for a visit to Sverdlovsk, where the EU has been running projects to improve the quality, accessibility and sustainability of essential services and to rehabilitate municipal buildings, including hospitals, schools and kindergartens.  The town puts on a colourful show to express their appreciation for the projects, at which a colossal array of talent performs including innumerable children (and a few adults) singing and dancing.  Civic leaders make speeches emphasising the importance of the EU to the area and their hope to pursue EU integration and further development projects.  Finally, we make the 5-hour drive on to Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov, originally founded by Greek settlers in the 18thC.  Once more, in the shadow of another gigantic steelworks, we are welcomed to the city with bread and salt from women dressed in traditional Ukrainian costumes.

Ukraine's export-oriented steel industry, the municipal projects in Sverdlovsk and the traditional Greek community and place-names of Mariupol are all reminders of how deeply Ukraine is already integrated with the rest of Europe, and how keen most Ukrainians are to see that process continue.  I hope that both the EU and Ukraine can engage in the hard work needed to make sure that happens over the months and years ahead.
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