Welsh diplomat returns to war-torn Ukraine as embassy in Kyiv reopens
Political adviser Kate Davenport is part of the team reopening the embassy to offer humanitarian and political support to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government in Ukraine.
The embassy was forced to temporarily close shortly before Russia’s invasion on February 24 but Ambassador Melinda Simmons returned to Kyiv on Friday April 29.
Ms Davenport has given a glimpse of what life is like in the Ukrainian capital, which was again targeted by a Russian bombing strike at the weekend.
Proud to be back
“We are proud to be back. Ultimately, reopening the British embassy has been about showing the Ukrainians that the UK is literally standing with them every step of the way,” she said.
“The resilience and adaptability of the Ukrainians is plain to see. Kyiv is returning to its pre-war vibrancy – but it’s a changed city.
“With airspace still shut, the long road trip in from the west takes you past the blackened shells of civilian buildings.
“Shrapnel-ridden signs and advertising boards are a sobering testimony to the horror of the first weeks of the invasion in the Kyiv region.
“Air raid sirens sounding several times a day in Kyiv serve as a reminder that Russia’s full-blown onslaught on Ukraine continues and that the city is not immune.
“The relief and happiness of reunions is mixed with deep sadness and grief for individual tragedies – all of us know someone who has perished.
“We also grieve for the loss of our past life in peaceful Kyiv, which felt carefree and like any other modern European capital, even in the eight years of war in Donbas.”
The 47-year-old was born and raised in Nottinghamshire but strongly identifies as Welsh.
“I do not have a Welsh accent, but I come from an enormous musical family from North Wales,” she said.
“I was immersed in that culture from an early age, and it was meeting Ukrainian singers and dancers at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod that actually first piqued my interest in Eastern Europe.
“I’ve always channelled my Welshness through music and one of my fondest memories of my time in Kyiv was playing the Welsh national anthem at a St David’s Day celebration at the embassy.
“Sadly, we did not get to celebrate it with Ukrainian friends this year because of Putin’s invasion.”
She admitted she could not believe that she had been caught up in an invasion that leaves Europe closer to war than at any point in 70 years.
Ms Davenport, who has lived in Kyiv for four years, said: “I don’t have a place in the UK so my whole life is in my apartment in Kyiv and suddenly you have to decide what to pack in a suitcase and what to leave behind.
“The most important thing was my violin – it’s always been my best tool for diplomacy.
“One of my team literally had Russian soldiers in the street outside and was hiding in the basement with her parents for a good week before making a dash for it.
“Civilian cars were being shot at, so it was incredibly nerve-wracking.”
The UK has pledged £1.3 billion in military and aid support to Ukraine and has now sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and over 100 entities.
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