Fancy a trip on the wild side? Ukraine beckons

Thu Mar 6, 2014 10:49am EST
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By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) - It may seem a tough sell to lure tourists to a country partly occupied by Russian troops and which several countries have advised its nationals is not safe for travel, but Ukraine's tourist board is looking on the sunny side.

At the world's largest travel fair in Berlin, Ukrainian officials are making the best of a tense situation by showing a huge photo of protesters in the capital Kiev, an image of change they hope will inspire visitors.

"I think it's our story at the moment - it's the sad side of our story but we're proud that Ukraine has these heroes and people who weren't scared to defend the interests of their country," Elena Ovcharenko, head of public relations and marketing for Kiev's tourism office, told Reuters.

The picture is of protesters in Maidan, or Independence Square - the symbol of protests in which 80 people were killed in battles with police two weeks ago that led to the toppling of President Viktor Yanukovich and his government.

"These people show us it's possible to bring about change in our country and these changes are taking time at the moment," Ovcharenko said.

Ukraine's giant neighbor Russia sees things differently, calling the new government illegitimate and reserving the right to dispatch troops if it considers its interests threatened. Russian media portray a country where ethnic Russians are threatened and fascist groupings set the tone.

In front of the photo bearing the slogan "Ukraine - it's all about u", visitors to the ITB tourism fair are invited to write their thoughts in a memorial book or pray by a candle flickering before a picture of some of the "Heroes of Maidan".

That is as close to events in Ukraine as several countries, including Britain, the United States and Australia, have suggested their nationals come.   Continued...