Raymond Asquith, 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith, is British hereditary peer and a former diplomat. Above that, he is the Member of the Group DF Supervisory Council, Director of the British Ukrainian Society and a Member of the Organizing Committee of The Days of Ukraine in Great Britain. He is well acquainted with Ukraine and its culture having lived in Kyiv for over 5 consecutive years. Now he is based in London, but visits Ukraine monthly to pursue his private interests here. In his interview Raymond discusses the issues of Ukraine’s integration into Europe, and his personal feelings about Kyiv and London.
If you could characterize Ukraine as a country in three words, what would these be? Why?
Inventive, hardworking and steadfast. Why? Perhaps because of your long land-based traditions and high intellectual achievements over many historical regimes.
Do you recall your first impression when you first came to Ukraine?
I visited Soviet Ukraine in 1984 and Kyiv seemed deadened, sullen and shut in. When I returned in 1992 my overriding impression was of relief. I spent my first night in Lviv. People then had to remind themselves that it was now acceptable to talk to a foreigner. I remember giving a lift, down from St Yura, to a man who offered me a bucket full of pears just because I had driven in from abroad. That winter, in Kyiv, people experienced great difficulties, materially and spiritually, the city was dark and almost empty apart from some horses and carts. But we lived in a block with only Ukrainian families and the friendships we made in those first twelve months have remained with us ever since. My other 'first impression', an enduring one, was how much the Ukrainians enjoy and know how to live in their countryside.
You have spent a big part of your time in Kyiv. What do you particularly like about the city?
I like the sense of airiness and light in the city, and the freedom to walk almost without interruption along the escarpment above the river.
Do you have a favourite place in Kyiv?
I have many favourite places in the city, but in particular the whole of Starokyivskiy district including Vladimir's Hill; and the larger of the two Botanical Gardens. Outside the city I love the Desna and Irpen rivers, the area around Kozinka (though it has now been rather built over) and the hills from Dmitryovichy to Vasilkiv.
You were a Counsellor of the British Embassy in Kyiv in 1992-1997. Do you feel Ukraine has changed for better or worse since then?
Ukraine has changed immeasurably for the better. I doubt that many Ukrainians under the age of 30 could wish to live under Soviet conditions.
You are the Member of the Group DF Supervisory Council. Why does Group DF feel cultural diplomacy is important?
The Group has contributed to programmes that foster independence of thought, social cohesion and high standards of education: at the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and Cambridge University, for example. If 'cultural diplomacy' means anything it must be to develop mutual appreciation between the sides involved and not some sort of unilateral, propagandist message. I believe the Group has an outstanding record of preserving independence of management in the projects it has supported.
What image of Ukraine should we convey to Europe?
At the moment Ukraine suffers most in Europe from its poor reputation for business ethics and administrative probity. This is an image that can be corrected only by action, not words.
Do you have a favourite place in London? What three places would you call a must-see for tourists?
I think of London as a chain of little districts or villages, all of which have their distinctive flavour and atmosphere. It is an enchanting, perpetually self-renewing city. If you leave aside the obvious tourist sites, such as those around Westminster, St Paul's (especially the Upper Gallery) and the Tower of London, I think three 'must-see' places are the British Museum with its new look; Somerset House; Kew Gardens in the spring or the Soane Museum at Lincoln's Inn in the winter. My wife says she would choose the restaurant at the top of the Shard. My children like Primrose Hill, Borough Market, and the newly restored canals.