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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Rushes to Finish Facelift Before Europe's Bankers Arrive




KIEV -- Tangled scaffolding and the frantic slapping of paint has given Ukraine's capital of Kiev the atmosphere of a chaotic kitchen two minutes before rich relatives are due for dinner.


Just days before 3,000 bankers and statesmen are to gather for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's eighth annual meeting, the city authorities are "painting the grass green" as they did when they were conscripts for visiting officers in the Soviet army.


Though the economy of this former Soviet republic of 50 million remains in the doldrums, official Ukraine is anxious to put on a good show.


"Kiev is better prepared to receive its guests than Britain, Bulgaria, even Russia." the Den daily quoted Kiev's mayor, Olexander Omelchenko, as saying Wednesday.


Visitors forced to sleep on narrow bunks on boats anchored in the grey waters of the Dnepr River might dispute that claim.


However sluggish their reform record, Ukrainian officials know that millions of dollars in investment could hinge on a businessman's first impression while lining up for customs in the airport.


Kiev's steel and glass Boryspil Airport hums with efficiency, a polite voice welcoming EBRD delegates over the loudspeakers.


Police officers have been issued with French-style kepis, yellow Citroen mail vans cruise the streets and restaurant tables have been placed out on pavements, giving Kiev a Parisian air.


But it is touch and go whether the overhaul of the Ukrainian capital, a city of chestnut trees, gold-domed churches and cobblestone streets that miraculously survived total war and Soviet concrete, will be finished in time.


On Wednesday, Kiev's central Mykhaylovsky Ploshchad was still a mess of bulldozers, cranes and men in hard hats laying out new cobblestones.


A builder sprucing up the front of the Soviet-era TsUM department store, a patriotic display of Ukrainian-made goods in its windows, cursed and went back to his varnishing when asked if he would finish in time for the "bankeri."


"We'll make it," said Oleh Taranov, the Ukrainian official charged with organizing the meeting.


"True, we didn't finish the new hotels in time, but we have 2,000 rooms available at four-star level and 1,500 at three-star level," Taranov said. "We didn't really need the boats -- we just set them up as something exotic."