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Ukraine: Organizers Look With Hope To EBRD Annual Meeting

Kyiv, 8 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) opens in Kyiv, the Ukrainian organizers say they are prepared.

More than 3,000 foreign bankers and businessmen are arriving today in Kyiv for the EBRD's eighth annual gathering. They will spend Saturday through Tuesday discussing the Bank's affairs and opportunities to invest in Eastern Europe and the CIS, where the EBRD's 25 countries of operation are located.

Realizing that it may be Ukraine's only chance to have so many foreign investors in the capital at one time, the organizers frantically grabbed at the opportunity to show the best of Ukrainian industries. After two months of difficult negotiations, Ukrainians persuaded the EBRD, for the first time in the history of the annual meetings, to allow the host country to stage a presentation in the same building where the meeting is held.

"This is a big achievement for us, since we realized that hardly anyone will bother to go and see our presentation, if we staged it at a different place," said Eduard Simson, who is in charge of Ukraine's presentation.

As a result, the third floor of Ukraine House, the primary site of the meeting's three venues, will feature stands of hundreds of Ukrainian companies from all over the country, each of them presenting a concisely prepared investment project. "We sent information about the event to 3,000 addresses in 25 countries and we made sure that every participant will know how to find and go around the exhibition," said Valery Pekar who also deals with organizing the investment projects exhibition. "We've done everything to make it successful," Pekar says.

In this, Ukraine will have a clear advantage over the EBRD's other countries of operation, as each of the others will have only 90 minutes to present itself to international bankers and businessmen, during the Business Forum, which is to be held during the meeting.

Some outside observers doubt Ukraine's optimistic forecasts, that the presence of thousands of foreign bankers, will enable Kyiv to draw substantial investment, as the government consistently fails to push forward with radical economic reforms.

"(The EBRD meeting) is not going to be a substitute for fundamental reforms," said Janusz Szyrmer, executive director of Harvard Institute for International Development. "As long as they are not implemented, EBRD congress can change things in a tangible way."

Besides, the conference participants are going to have many other things to do besides watching Ukraine present itself.

Apart from country presentations, the Business Forum, organized to promote investment in the countries of Eastern Europe and CIS, will include seminars on tackling key problems foreign investors face. In addition, two-day plenary sessions of the EBRD Board of Governors will be held Monday and Tuesday, and are to be attended by the Bank's 60 Governors and high-ranking government officials from EBRD countries of operation.

With their busy schedules, the bankers might not notice that the places where they will stay and work were different, only a short time ago. Kyiv officials have announced - perhaps with a bit of embarrassment - that raids of illegal brothels, gambling houses and hotels in Kyiv have resulted in more than 19,000 people being detained or fined - ahead of the arrival of the foreign guests. Beggars have been warned not to show up near the meetings, and thousands of stray dogs were either killed or taken out of the city.

Kyiv City Administrator Oleksandr Omelchenko says 4,400 refurbished hotel rooms were specially prepared for the guests, and more than 100 buses to transport them.

Kyiv residents perhaps view the hasty preparation in a different light, noticing the stark difference, between the places where foreign bankers are going to be, and the rest of the city. Anyone walking by the Bratislava hotel on Kyiv's left bank can hardly fail to notice the new asphalt with shiny white road marks, newly built benches and newly planted trees around the hotel. However, the scene changes to gray dusty road and broken pavement just a 100 meters away from the hotel - on a route the visiting bankers are not expected to take.

In the hotel itself, the rooms prepared for participants are obvious. Their new plastic shutters sharply contrast with rotting wooden windows from Soviet times. A similar view can be seen near all of the 27 hotels where the visiting bankers are going to stay.

"They can't help sticking to this Soviet tradition of window-dressing," taxi driver, Lyudmyla, told RFE/RL, as her car rolled onto one of the newly paved roads. "If it were not for the meeting, everything would have stayed the same," she said.