A common theme running through Ukraine's history is its position at a crossroads between Europe and Asia, or between East and West.  The concept has come up in the presidential election campaign, with suggestions that Ukraine has to "choose" between getting closer to the EU and revitalising historical connections with Russia. Sometimes in the past Ukraine has been placed on one side or other of barriers dividing East and West, such as the Curzon Line.  Conversely, some of Ukraine's most impressive artistic artefacts, such as the bronze-age stone sculptures of Dnipropetrovsk, show how different cultures have helped enrich the country over the millennia.

I was struck by the East-West theme and by how cultures can be enriched by cross-fertilisation  when visiting a couple of "Museums of Western and Oriental Art" in Ukraine this year.  The first was in Odesa.  The second, in Kyiv, was the Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Art.  Sited in an exquisitely-restored gallery built in 1887, it features a host of world-class artefacts including ancient Iranian and Iraqi art (I particularly like the 13thC "Preparation of Medicines"), works by Velasquez and Rubens, some exquisite Japanese netsuke and tsuba, rare 6th and 7th century icons from the Sinai Peninsula and, of special interest to government officials, a statue of Man, the Chinese God of Civil Servants.  What's more, the museum attendants are amongst the most friendly and helpful I've ever encountered.  I wrote recently about how Ukraine's multiculturalism could give it a competitive edge in the modern world.  Similarly, there's no reason why Ukraine can't draw closer to the EU while retaining links with Russia: it's not a zero-sum game.  On the contrary: history shows, as exemplified by recent celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, that building barriers between different parts of Europe never helped Ukraine or anyone else.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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