Emerging Europe

Businessmen and academics denied entry to Ukraine

Roman Olearchyk

A prominent foreign businessman who has voiced solidarity with pro EU demonstrators is being held at a Ukrainian airport and prevented from entering the country, raising concern among diplomats and the expatriate community.

George Kikvadze, a US-educated Georgian national employed as a top executive at Ukraine's Terra food conglomerate, was on Saturday denied entry into the country.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP/Getty Images

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"Border guards told me there is an order from the state security service of Ukraine not to let me in," Mr Kikvadze told the Financial Times by telephone from Kiev's Boryspil airport. "I've been here for five years, building jobs and attracting investment. Apparently I am now a dangerous revolutionary trying to take down the government."

The news of the banning of some foreigners came as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters continued to rally in Kiev, calling on Viktor Yanukovich, the president, to reverse his decision to move away from EU integration and towards Russia's orbit.

(Read more: IMF scolds Ukraine plan for economy)

Mr Kikvadze is among 36 foreigners, mostly Georgian nationals but also US citizens, who are members of Kiev's foreign business community or professors at local universities who have been identified on a list compiled by Oleg Tsarov, a pro-presidential lawmaker, as threats to the country.

In a letter to Ukraine's state security service and foreign ministry earlier this month Mr Tsarov described "the risk foreign agents" posed for "national security."

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Opposition-leaning Russian political strategists are included on the list. Boris Nemtsov, Russian opposition politician, was denied entry this month.

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"I saw the list," Mr Kikvadze said, admitting that he had voiced solidarity with the protests on Facebook postings and had attended street demonstrations out of "concern" for Ukraine's future.

Mr Tsarov has called on the state security service and foreign minister to ban dozens of foreigners. He said the list of unwanted foreigners, which atthe moment consists largely of Georgian politicians including ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as western political consultants and lobbyists, could soon be increased to 200 individuals.

"I've seen that I am on the list," said Andreas Umland, a German national who has been a professor at a Kiev university since 2002. "I am not affiliated with any political group. I am just here as an academic. Of course I have criticised the government's foreign policy, but I have also criticised the EU policy and opposition parties here in Ukraine."

(Read more: Ukraine may gain 'short-term benefits' by move east)

In recent website postings, Mr Tsarov accused George Soros, billionaire philanthropist, of supporting the anti-government protests through the organisations that his Open Society initiative finances.

Some activists leading the protests have been involved in non-government pro-democracy and civil society organisations funded in the past through grants provided by Mr Soros, US and EU donors. But they have strongly denied that thecontinuing demonstrations are backed by the west

"This is a protest by the people, not some foreigners," said 60-year-old Volodymyr, a Cossack guarding barricades that encircle the permanent protest camp on Kiev's main square. "The authorities can't get us off the street, so they are in desperation trying to discredit our movement and remove foreign witnesses, to isolate us so that the world forgets about our struggle," he added.