The 2018 Crystal Ball: Ukraine is on the Brink, But of What?

Issue 108, January 2018.
The 2018 Crystal Ball:
Ukraine is on the Brink, But of What?
January has returned, and along with it comes our annual ‘Year in Review’ issue. Flip through to discover all the reasons that made Lviv such a special place to be in 2017. But if you want to know what the city and country has in store, keep reading. 
Ukraine is on the brink – but of what, is anyone’s guess. Is it on the brink of an expanded war or another revolution? Or maybe it’s on the brink of a boon in foreign direct investment or developing a cutting-edge alternative energy sector? We know that next year will be pivotal – for both Lviv and Ukraine – and while we don’t know what’s in store just yet, you can expect that:
1. Federal politics will return to the foreground
The year ahead will see major political issues once again return as the main topic of conversation. The war in the East could be on the brink. With the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria and the allowance of Canadian and US companies to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine, there is a real sense that the sides are rearming. Set this against widespread domestic discontent at the pace of reforms. With just over a year before the next Presidential election, President Poroshenko is under increased pressure to reform the health sector and establish anti-corruption courts before a new – and potentially less-friendly – Verkhovna Rada is elected. Add in a dash of rabble-rousing by a former Georgian President, and you can see why the political situation is so dangerous.
2. Local politics won’t remain in the background
The general political discontent will not leave our local leaders untouched either. The most pressing issue – as it has been since June 2016 – is the need for a new garbage disposal plant. Despite assurances from local government that this issue would have been dealt with already, there has been little movement. It takes years to build one of these things, so Lviv City Council needs to get on it! Speaking of years to build, where is the promised stadium that was supposed to hold events like EuroBasket, Eurovision, and the Olympics? If you don’t build it, they won’t come. Finally, a few isolated incidents, like security at the gay pride parade or the botched emergency siren on Christmas, don’t lend themselves to the safe and pleasant European centre image that the city makes every effort to display. With the heightened state of political awareness next year, expect local politicians to get called out on these (and other) issues.
3. Lviv will welcome far more foreigners
Perhaps Ukraine’s greatest achievement of 2017 was getting visa-free status to the EU. More than 380,000 Ukrainians have already traveled visa-free to the EU since June, and more than 5 million have received their biometric passports that allows them to do so. Those numbers should assuage the concerns of low cost carriers like Ryanair, snake-bitten after their attempt to enter the market this year was derailed. Ukraine is making it easier for foreigners to get here too, having added countries like the UAE and Albania to the visa-free list, while introducing an e-visa system for Egyptian travellers and a visa-on-arrival system for the Chinese. Expect this trend to expand in 2018. With aggressive overtures from Lviv International Airport to lure more low-cost air options, and the city’s reputation as Europe’s “last undiscovered gem”, you can be sure that the Western Ukrainian capital sees a lion’s share of these new tourist dollars.
4. Lviv will welcome far more locals
Whether its the draw of Carpathian eco-tourism, the unmistakeable culture of the Boykos and Hutsuls, or the myriad mega-events in Ukraine’s most European city, Lviv’s internal tourism numbers are growing and you can expect that trend to continue. Even during Soviet times, travelers would visit Lviv for a ‘taste of Europe’. Now, Lviv and area have picked up the slack for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian tourists that lost their ‘go-to’ locale following the occupation of Crimea. Crimean staples moved West, like the Artek Children’s Camp to Bukovel or Ukraine’s Paralympic base to the Western Rehabilitation & Sports Centre in Yavoriv. More than just Bukovel’s ski chalets and Lviv’s bustling cafés, Ukrainians now also travel West for eco-tours, music festivals, and new destination resorts, like the rejuvenated Soviet-era resort in Slavske. Operators are beginning to offer less traditional tours, like to the Domazhyr Bear Reserve or to Optimystychna Cave – Europe’s largest – near Ternopil. This has regional air carriers salivating, and you can expect to see some competition in the domestic air market as SkyUP and possibly another airline will challenge UIA’s monopoly. All this is good news for the Ukraine’s unquestioned leading travel destination – Lviv. 
5. Lviv will continue to show why it’s the ‘Soul of Ukraine’
Of course, what would this column be without the obligatory – and straightforward – prediction that Lviv remains the ‘Soul of Ukraine’? And why not? The city’s busy cultural calendar means that it doesn’t matter what your particular tastes are, you’ll be able to find something cool and interesting to do every week! With top-notch food festivals for culinary connoisseurs, world-class jazz festivals for the musically-inclined, refurbished architectural gems for the history buffs, and a dizzying variety of hip nightclubs, swanky art shows, and chill cafés – there are plenty of reasons why Lviv is Ukraine’s tourism capital. So whether you’re into sports, fashion, literature, or just looking for a nice place to take a date in one of Europe’s most romantic getaways, keep reading Lviv Today to see what’s happening every month in the ‘Soul of Ukraine’. 
-- Lee Reaney, Editor of Lviv Today