"This is the Bat-Cave," our guide Borys says.  "Turn off your lights."  30 metres underground, after an hour of squeezing through fissures in the Mlynky cave system, a dozen mostly-nervous novice speleologists extinguish their lamps and are plunged into blackness.  Then an eerie bat appears above our heads, first in white and then in red as Borys holds up his lamp against a chunk of crystal set in the ceiling.  There's a gasp of admiration before debate resumes about how we are going to get back to the surface - still 90 minutes away.

We're on a fund-raising week-end visit to western Ukraine organised by the charity EveryChild Ukraine.  The first day consists of a 7 a.m. start from Kyiv, a 7-hour drive, and a visit to the caves - at a steady 9.8 degrees a welcome respite from the heat outside.  The photos and descriptions of the caves at the link in para 1 give an impression of the underground world, including the joy of coming out again.  On the Sunday we visit the fortress city of Kamyanets-Podilsky and the nearby castle of Khotyn and return to Kyiv around midnight. 

What strikes me most about the visit, apart from how dark caves can be, is yet again the extraordinary combination of cultures which has helped shaped Ukraine.  The city and fortresses seem to have been founded, built, attacked, restored and extended by an impressive variety of people over the years going right back to Huns, Romans, Greeks and beyond.  Kamyanets-Podilsky has a memorial to the "seven peoples" who have lived there, described by our guide as Ukrainians, Poles, Turks, Russians, Jews, Lithuanian and Armenians.  I wrote last year about the tumultuous history of this part of the world, the importance of understanding Eastern European history and about the fact that in the fine board game of "Diplomacy", control of this part of the world is the key to Central Europe.  History shows conclusively that instability breeds poverty and insecurity whereas the key to prosperity is long-term stability based on democracy, consensus and inclusivity.  The castles of south-west Ukraine are yet another reminder, if one were needed, of why the UK is so keen to see Ukraine reinforce its long-term stability by steadily taking forward the integration process with the outfit which arguably has done more than any other to promote stability and democracy in Western Europe over the past 50 years - the European Union. 
Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

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