Is Victory in War Possible When Ukrainian Businessmen Fear the Military?

For a year and a half, the United Kingdom has stood as a reliable partner and a steadfast friend of Ukraine in its ongoing confrontation with the Russian Federation. Despite the regular influx of disheartening reports from Ukraine, often concerning devastating shelling and allegations of corruption during the conflict, our faith in Ukraine’s ultimate victory remains unwavering. Amidst this backdrop of adversity, an unusual and unexpected issue has come to the fore, capturing the attention of Ukrainian society and the nation’s business community. This intriguing “revelation” was first shared by a colleague, a journalist  from the Ukrainian edition of Forbes, who provided  several links. Central to the controversy is the Young Business Club (YBC), a potent network for young entrepreneurs in Ukraine.

During one of the club’s recent gatherings, hosted in the heart of Kyiv, military personnel were invited to speak, and they attended in their customary uniforms. Their attire, a natural choice in their line of duty, had an unexpectedly intimidating effect on the young entrepreneurs. The businessmen requested that the military personnel be discreetly relocated out of their line of sight, as the sight of uniforms triggered fear among them. The aftermath of this unsettling incident witnessed the military personnel recording a video and speaking out about the disrespectful treatment they received. This prompted an immediate and widespread scandal within the war-torn nation. Public opinion swiftly turned against the businessmen, with many suggesting that they should experience military service to become familiar with wearing a uniform. The prevailing sentiment was that if they are apprehensive about uniforms, how will it be possible to defeat the Russian Federation?

The Ukrainian “Young Business Club” operates as an exclusive business community that “brings together young and exceptional entrepreneurs with common aspirations for achieving substantial goals.” Membership in the club is extended to business owners with officially registered enterprises generating an annual turnover of $100,000 or more. This dynamic club has established its presence not only in various Ukrainian cities but also across international borders, with branches in the USA, Canada, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Spain, and even as far as Bali. Until the spring of 2022, right after the war with Russian Federation, a branch of the Young Business Club (YBC) was also in operation in London. Currently, the official website and social media presence of “Young Business Club – London” have become inactive, with all information removed. Ukrainian media reports suggest that the club’s closure was prompted by the substantial number of Russian members who either actively supported the war or chose to remain silent, abstaining from taking a stance in the conflict. With pro-Ukrainian members in the club comprising a minority, the decision was made to close the branch. And as of today, nearly a year and a half since the onset of the conflict, an unusual situation is unfolding in Kyiv. It appears that club members not only fear the war itself but even the mere presence of military uniforms. As a British I was quite surprised to come across news reports about the YBC. In the United Kingdom, where military service is a shared duty, even members of the royal family fulfill their obligations. The sight of military uniforms does not instill fear; on the contrary, it is a matter of great pride for individuals to defend their homeland.

It appears to me that the successful prosecution of a war hinges on achieving unity and maximum mobilization across all sectors of society. In the case of the Young Business Club – London, its diversity was evident from the outset, given its foundation as a platform for “Russian-speaking businessmen in London,” encompassing both Ukrainians and Russians. As the conflict unfolded, these differences became even more pronounced, as it became evident where individual loyalties lay within the club. The elimination of contradictions and double standards is imperative. Indeed, it appears that the Young Business Club grapples with an abundance of double standards:

The Young Business Club was established in Ukraine and should be pro-Ukrainian. It should also export the brand of Ukraine to the international business arena. In practice, we see that the real position of the YBC is anti-war, which in the conditions of war with the Russian Federation equals “pro-Russian”;

The initial figurehead of the YBC, Andrew Ostapchuk, is Ukrainian by nationality, but he engaged in business in London alongside Sergey Archakov, who holds a staunch pro-Putin stance. This situation is not merely a contradiction; it verges on the absurd. Furthermore, Ostapchuk left Ukraine shortly before the Russian Federation’s invasion and essentially quit the club. He has shown no intention of returning to Ukraine, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the future of YBC’s existence.

Expressing love for Ukraine from afar is gaining popularity, but this emerging trend poses a significant risk for a nation in the midst of a conflict. One can draw parallels with Israel, where thousands of men have returned to their homeland during challenging times for their country.

Complete silence surrounds the incident involving the “expulsion” of military personnel from the event, and there appears to be a state of “radio silence” among YBC members and shareholders. What’s striking is that this silence seems almost unanimous, even from a club shareholder who was personally present at the unfortunate occurrence in Kyiv. According to my Ukrainian colleague, this shareholder is Yana Matviychuk, who takes pride in organizing events for organizations like OSCE or UNICEF, but she refrains from commenting on this troubling mishap. It appears that the message being sent to ordinary club members by the shareholders is clear: they can opt for silence, and the incident will eventually fade into oblivion.

The outcome of this scandal remains uncertain, but one can only hope that all parties involved will learn from it. Undoubtedly, society should condemn what transpired, and it’s incumbent upon all YBC members to offer public apologies. Such incidents tarnish the country’s image on the global stage and erode the authority that Ukraine has earned through the sacrifices of its defenders.