In the long-ago summer of 2010, I found myself in the beautiful harbour of Sevastopol, surveying the rival fleets of Russia and Ukraine as they rode at anchor in the lovely Crimean sunshine.
One great fortress was adorned with banners proclaiming ‘Glory to the Ukrainian Navy!’ Another frowning bastion across the water bore the words ‘Glory to the Russian Navy!’
In the streets of that elegant city, with its porticoes and statues and monuments to repeated wars, sailors from the two fleets mingled on the pavements.
The Russians looked like Russians, with their huge hats and Edwardian uniforms. The Ukrainians looked more like the US Navy on shore leave in San Diego.
It was almost funny to see. I hoped at that time that it would work out well. For the Ukrainians had begun to be silly.
In a country crammed with Russians, they were trying to make Russian a second-class language.
Russians who had lived there happily for decades were pressured to take Ukrainian citizenship and adopt Ukrainian versions of their Christian names.
The schools were promoting a national hero, Stepan Bandera, who Russians strongly disliked and regarded as a terrorist.
And they were teaching history which often had an anti-Russian tinge. Quite a few people told me they felt put upon by these policies. Why couldn’t they just be left alone?
Until that point, Ukraine had been a reasonably harmonious country in its 20-odd years of existence. After that visit I saw big trouble coming, both in the Crimea and in the Don Basin, where I also travelled that year.