Easter and Passover coincided this year, so we’ve been in America visiting my in-laws. Four years ago, in the spirit of the holiday of liberation and exodus, we had all travelled to the Ukrainian village outside Lviv from which my father-in-law’s family emigrated. In just a few short generations during the 20th century, people there found themselves labouring under the Austro-Hungarian, Polish, Nazi and Soviet yokes. The disastrous human consequences are laid bare in Bernard Wasserstein’s poignant new history, A Small Town in Ukraine. Now Russian missiles intermittently rain down, partly enabled by sanctions busting and dirty money. When President Zelensky addressed the British parliament a couple of months ago, he drove past luxury flats overlooking our Ministry of Defence and reportedly owned by Putin’s former deputy prime minister. They are just the £11 million tip of a £6.7 billion iceberg of dodgy UK property. In the Lords this week, a cross-party coalition is trying to strengthen the Economic Crime bill and shut the ‘London laundromat’. Russia must compensate Ukraine for its illegal invasion. A good place to start would be converting frozen illicit assets into Ukrainian reparations.
My first visit to Washington was as a student at the height of the Iran-Contra affair. A friend got us into the Oval Office, and I particularly remember Ronald Reagan’s desk toy. As the Cold War reached its denouement, his small wooden spinning ‘decision maker’ was marked ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’ and ‘scram’. Amusing, but not totally reassuring. Now this Easter it’s my turn to show my daughter around. So it’s irritating to find Smithsonian museums still operating pandemic-era ticket restrictions discouraging spontaneous visits. Not so the Lincoln Memorial, with its open-to-all sculpture of craggy Uncle Abe, and marble inscriptions of his second inaugural speech and Gettysburg address. What he lacked in Instagrammable good looks he made up for in tweetable concision.