The UK’s Jewish ambassador to Ukraine has said she feels “comfortable” returning to Kyiv despite Russian threats against diplomats in the Ukrainian capital.
Melinda Simmons arrived back in Kyiv late on Friday, following the announcement last month that Britain would be reopening its embassy in the city in a show of support for Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.
Her return comes after Moscow threatened a “proportional response” against Britain for backing Ukrainian strikes behind Russian lines, hinting at possible strikes at British sites in Kyiv.
In an interview with The Observer, Ms Simmons said that while she was well aware of the risk of returning to the capital, it “absolutely feels like the right place to be”.
She told the newspaper: “I’m not minimising (the risk). I’m not discounting it. You have to take it into account, but I’m still here. There are 27 ambassadors here so that’s quite a lot of diplomats to target. I am here with a heightened level of security protection and bearing in mind that potential risk, but for now I feel comfortable working under those circumstances.”
Britain moved embassy staff to the western city of Lviv shortly before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his long-expected invasion of Ukraine in February.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference during a visit to India in April that staff would begin returning to Kyiv thanks to Ukraine repelling Moscow’s troops from around the city.
He said: “The extraordinary fortitude and success of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people in resisting Russian forces in Kyiv means that I can today announce shortly… we will reopen our embassy in Ukraine’s capital city.
Born in the East End but brought up in Essex, Simmons began her career in business before switching to work in government. She is originally one of three sisters, but her elder sister died.
Her family is from Poland on her father’s side, but her mother’s side is both Lithuanian and Ukrainian. “She told Jewish News in 2019: As a Jewish woman, returning to the region, I feel I can play a positive role.
“My great-grandparents were born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine. My great-grandfather moved first to Kiev and then to the US. My great-grandmother, for reasons we don’t know, went from Kharkiv to Cardiff”.
Simmons comes from a traditional United Synagogue background. She said: “I was brought up in the US, was a regular shul attender, had a kosher home, all of that. But from my mid-teens on I was looking for somewhere that was more inclusive for women, and I went from community to community. Eventually I found Finchley Reform and it is a community I really love.”
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