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Dame Melinda Simmons: Leading an embassy through a war is not a job, it's a life — video


KYIV, Ukraine — The KYIV NOT KIEV project hosts Tetiana Gaiduk and Polina Ivanyshyn (leading experts of Truman team) sat down for an exclusive interview with Dame Melinda Simmons, British Ambassador to Ukraine, to discuss her experiences living in Kyiv during wartime, the recent visit of the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to London, as well as the unprecedented support of the British people, which Ukrainians can rely on.

The Ambassador's term of stay in Kyiv expires in the summer. Her Excellency represents an allying country that is doing everything possible to help Ukraine defend itself. That means every part of the British Embassy effort — whether it's commercial, political, military, humanitarian, or economic — aims at one objective, which is to help Ukraine fight Russia back to its borders.

Quote«That means that the job I thought I had when I first arrived is not the job I'm doing now. Well, I think leading an embassy through a war is not a job. Actually, it's a life,» says Dame Melinda.

She was awarded a Damehood at the end of 2022, including for her outstanding work in Ukraine: «Of course, it felt great to be recognized, but I also felt it for Ukraine. I mean, I'm given this award for a history of work. But I'm primarily being given it now because of the government's desire to show, to use this tool of the system to show support for Ukraine.»

Ukrainians got used to living in constant danger since Russia has started it’s full-scale invasion a year ago, on February 24, 2022. Madame Ambassador’s life has also changed in every way since then. She lives in Kyiv with air raid sirens, spends time in shelter down in her residence’s basement. At the same time, she does not deprive herself of the joys of life in the Ukrainian capital liberated from the Russians; she walks around the city a lot.

Madame Ambassador thinks that it's really important to show people what liberation can feel like in Ukraine and to help people outside Ukraine understand that the whole of Ukraine is not war-torn. Ambassador Simmons believes that it is also a signal to the Russians that Ukrainians are determined that they can live their lives, work their jobs, grow their businesses, and celebrate being in their capital city. «It's a defiance, so I play my part in that defiance», she says.

On February 8th, President Zelensky visited London. That was his second overseas visit, with defense cooperation predominating on the agenda. The Ambassador revealed that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, spoke with President Zelensky about how to capitalize on the fact that Russia, at this time, appears to have lost its advantage.

Therefore, there is a window of opportunity for Ukraine not just to defend itself but to push right back. Great Britain’s decision to provide Ukraine with Challenger 2 tanks is what is needed right now. As for the fighter jets, which are now among the primarily needed items for the Ukrainian defense, «there isn't so much an availability issue as a capability issue,» explains Ambassador Simmons. Those types of jets that Ukraine is asking for will require training for Ukrainian pilots, which has already started in the UK.

Quote«My expectation is that the increasing capability of the air force through whichever provision of jets is going to be as much about securing Ukraine's long-term future as it may be about pushing Russia back,» says the Ambassador.

Answering the question about what makes Britain act more boldly than its European colleagues in matters of arms supply, Madame Ambassador said that she was very proud of the UK’s consistency in its understanding of what is happening in Ukraine.

Quote«The UK doesn’t like seeing a nuclear-armed bully country invade another country with no other reason than to subjugate it. It’s contrary to the values that Ukraine and the UK share. And it turns out that the UK feels very strongly about those values,» she explains.

The reluctance of some of the Western allies to provide Ukraine with weapons is often based on the argument that it will apparently cause an escalation in the war, provoking Putin to take tougher actions.

Quote«There’s a part of me that thinks we are collectively beyond the point of worrying about the escalation,» Madame Ambassador comments on the matter. «I think there probably is a growing and quite healthy skepticism among countries about (Putin’s – ed.) threat, which doesn’t mean that you don’t take it seriously.»

As for the UK, Prime Minister Sunak made clear that nothing is off the table.

Quote«We don’t make our calculations about how we help Ukraine based on what Putin might do. We make our calculations on what help to give Ukraine based on what the Ukrainians ask for and our joint understanding of what is happening in terms of the invasion. And nothing else plays a part in that decision» Madame Ambassador assured the KYIV NOT KIEV presenters.

Another thing, apart from the common values and national interests, is the sincere sympathy of the Brits for the Ukrainian people. Ambassador Simmons recalls President Zelenskyy’s visit to London: in the 45 minutes that it took for the car to go from the airport to central London, regular people had gathered on the streets to welcome the Ukrainian president with flags, waves, and cheers.

Quote«I really can’t remember the last time I was so moved. I mean, UK is not the country where people are told to come out on the streets and show their support. It was completely spontaneous. So I took away something that I hear about in Kyiv but don’t often get a chance to see—it isn’t just a policy that is about values; it is also something that British people really feel in their hearts,» she says.

While manifestations of a personal sympathy between UA-UK top officials have been quite public, Madame Ambassador is moved by the way ordinary people express that warmth. She remembers how touched she was when a Ukrainian military approached to her, took his patch of his sleeve, and gave it to her. He wanted her to have this as a thank you because his wife found shelter in the UK.

The Ukrainians pay back to the British people for Britain being one of the most loyal Ukraine’s allies with all their gratitude, which sometimes takes unexpected forms. The Kyiv bakery ‘Zavertailo,’ for example, creates cakes named after the British Prime Ministers, adding Ukrainian endings to their surnames. The KYIV NOT KIEV hosts brought "Boris Johnsoniuk" and "Rishi Sunakovych" to the residence. That was the first time the sweet confessions of Ukrainians' love for Britain reached British soil.

KYIV NOT KIEV is an English-language news blog about Ukraine created by Truman team that helps improve Ukraine's communication with the world, as well as a community of over 30,000 Ukraine-supporters from around the world.

Video of Dame Melinda Simmons, the British Ambassador to Ukraine, interview by the KYIV NOT KIEV project

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