homepage_name! > Editions > Number 112 > Ambassador - Ukraine

H.E. Mr. Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, Ambassador of Ukraine to Serbia

Ukraine

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It borders Russia to the northeast and east, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to the south.

The country has a population of approx. 45 million, mostly comprising Ukrainians (92%).

The capital and the largest city is Kiev with 2,814,258 residents. The seat of Ukraine’s institutions is located in Kiev, and the city is considered to be the nation's political, administrative, economic, educational and cultural center.

In terms of geography, Ukraine is very diverse: the central part of the country is covered in steppes, the north of the country is dominated by wetlands, while the south is characterized by vast expanses of lowlands. The Carpathian Mountains, with the country’s highest peak, lie in the west.

The architecture of western Ukraine is remarkably different from the urban architecture in other parts of the country. These differences are a consequence of the Polish and Austro-Hungarian rule over the western part of the country.

Ukraine boasts the world’s deepest metro station, at the depth of 105 meters below ground.

The first university in Eastern Europe was founded in 1576 in Ostroh.

We had the honor to talk to His ExcellencyMr. Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, Ambassador of Ukraine to Serbia.

  1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

Serbia is very close to my heart because of the proximity in language, culture, tradition and mentality to the Ukraine. Your people are very kind and hospitable. I feel very much at home here. Belgrade reminds me a lot of Kyiv: both cities have a big river and many parks, while Novi Sad looks very much like Lviv in Western Ukraine. And your countryside is practically the same as in the Ukraine.

  1. How long have you held the position of ambassador in Serbia, and what has been the course of your career in diplomacy before you came to Serbia?

I came to serve as the Ukraine’s Ambassador to Serbia in June 2015. In my 23 year-long diplomatic career, I had visited over 40 countries and been posted in Brussels, Strasbourg and Washington D.C. Back in the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv, I served as political, international security and Europe director. Serbia will always occupy a special place in my heart, as this is my first Ambassadorial post.

  1. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order to improve that cooperation?

The Ukraine and Serbia became independent states as a result of the breakdown of two multi-ethnic empires: the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Until early 2014, we had excellent relations based on shared Slavic and Orthodox Christian identity. The Ukraine has always viewed Serbia as a very distinct and special nation with its own rich history, different from its neighbors and definitely different from its occupying powers in the past. I always point out the fact that hundreds of years under the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian rule have not changed you. Serbs have remained Serbs.

On the other hand, the Ukraine in the eyes of Serbs, has somehow always been associated with Moscow, with being part of Russia, with being actually indistinguishable from Russians. And that has a certain effect on your comprehension of who we are. Despite hundreds of years of the Russian or Soviet rule, Ukrainians have always remained Ukrainians. I devote 90% of my ambassadorial work to explaining this simple historical fact.

Belgrade has adopted a very strong and consistent position in support of the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

For the present, and for the future of our relations, I personally believe that we should pay less attention to our Slavic or Orthodox roots (although they are of course very important for both our nations and we are not going to abandon them!), but rather focus more on fundamental European democratic values, because they create a solid framework for the world in peace and prosperity on our continent without putting into question our national and cultural identities.

  1. The president of the Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko recently visited Belgrade and the Serbia-Ukraine Business Forum was held on the same day. In what way did the visit contribute to better bilateral relations of our countries?

This visit – the first in the last 5 years – marked a very important benchmark in our bilateral relations. It was intended to make clear our joint assessment of what constitutes a violent breach of international law: both parties reconfirmed the sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo and the sovereignty of the Ukraine over Crimea. The visit also paved the way toward a bilateral free trade area and overall diversification of trade. We agreed to cooperate in international organizations and to continue exchanging valuable experience in European integration. On top of that, the two presidents welcomed the soon to be erected monument to the Ukrainian bard and painter, Taras Shevchenko, in Novi Sad and a similar initiative for a Serbian literary celebrity on the territory of Ukraine. We also look forward to the reopening of Kyiv –a direct air flight from Belgrade early next year, which will promote tourism and business travel. The visit and the business forum received wide media coverage in the Ukraine and in Serbia.

  1. What is the nature of foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to the Ukraine, and what does it import from the Ukraine?

The peak of our bilateral trade was in the pre-crisis year of 2008, totaling almost 800 million USD. Later on, for obvious reasons, it went down to pick up once again in the last three years at an annual rate of about 30%. So, this is a good trend. Still, the main problem is non-diversified exports from the Ukraine – almost 80% of them come as iron ore and metals to Železara Smederovo; as well as a significant negative balance of trade for Serbia. So far, we have mostly traded in staple commodities – metals, chemicals, grain and corn, paper, some electric devices and other machinery and pharmaceuticals. Personally, I believe that commodity trade, especially in agriculture, is not the best way to improve our lives. It is not sustainable and is very often outright harmful for social cohesion and public health. I would rather see the Ukraine and Serbia invest much more into organic agriculture, into joint non-GMO seed bank projects, in producing agricultural machines and tools and in the rapidly growing IT industry.

  1. When it comes to investments, how do investors from the Ukraine regard the Serbian market? How many Ukrainian companies are operating in Serbia at the moment and which are the most important companies investing in us?

The Ukraine and Serbia are currently not the richest countries, so we are both looking for ways to maximize exports and foreign direct investments. For that reason, our investment cooperation is not very strong. We have the MK Group and Tarkett doing successful business in the Ukraine. And we have a couple of hundred companies with the Ukrainian capital operating in Serbia but on a very small scale, mostly small private businesses. I am not saying that this is bad. I strongly believe that small and medium enterprises ought to be the backbone of any economy, because they are usually tied to a certain locality and thus contribute to social interaction and harmony. Learn to know your local baker, butcher, farmer, IT expert, lawyer or doctor. Wear national or regional brands. You don't need huge supermarkets or other global chains.

  1. How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government and business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development?

We maintain regular contact with the Ukrainian and Serbian Chambers of Commerce and all their regional branches. We communicate with professional associations in specific areas of economy. They have large databases providing real time information for potential investors or traders. The role of the two governments is to establish favorable rules of the game. As mentioned before, we hope to finalize work on a bilateral free trade agreement. Besides, both our countries are moving toward the EU and so are constantly adapting their legislation to EU standards, including veterinary and phytosanitary norms, environmental requirements, building permits etc. That creates a homogenious business space conductive to entrepreneurs.

  1. The Ukrainian and Ruthenian community in the Republic of Serbia is predominantly located in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. How satisfied are you with their status and the exercising of their rights, especially in the field of education and the media?

There are about 5 thousand Ukrainians and 15 thousand Ruthenians officially registered in Serbia based on their self-identification. The Embassy cooperates with both communities and their cultural associations very closely in promoting the rich culture from the Ukraine, including history, dance, song, national costume and cuisine.

With regards their status and rights in Serbia, the situation is not so simple. On one hand, Serbia and especially Vojvodina are rightly considered as very tolerant and actively promote the rights of all national minorities. I often call Vojvodina a mini-European Union. On the other hand, the recently adopted new law on the national councils of national minorities creates financial difficulties for our community that may reduce their capacity to organize cultural events. We shall continue to work with the Serbian authorities to mitigate this technical problem.

  1. Today, Serbia is a candidate country – negotiations started in January, 2014.In your opinion, how far along is Serbia on the path towards the EU, and what will be crucial for Serbia to become a member state?

It is not my job to assess the progress of Serbia on the path to EU integration. But, I can testify that Serbia is ahead of Ukraine. You are opening and closing negotiating chapters, while the Ukraine is so far implementing the Association agreement and is engaged in sectoral cooperation. There is a very active ongoing collaboration between our experts in the exchange of experience in European integration.

Ukrainians believe that the EU is first of all about fundamental democratic values, which we defended during the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014 and are now defending it against Russian aggression. These values mean a lot to us, because we lost 11 thousand lives fighting for them. The Ukraine considers Serbia as one of the core European nations and fully supports your aspirations to become an EU member. We must remember that despite some Euro-scepticism and objective problems in the EU - nothing better, more peaceful and prosperous or just has ever been created on this continent in the last 70 years.

  1. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and the Ukraine in the fields of science, culture and education?

In May 2017, the Days of the Ukraine in Serbia were held as a cultural festival in Novi Sad. It lasted for 10 days with over 30 events on a dozen locations, including concerts, exhibitions, historical debates, street marches, church services, cuisine tastings, etc. It was a marvelous manifestation of our culture. One year before, a similar event took place in Kalemegdan, in Belgrade. Besides this, during annual festivals organized by the Ukrainian and Ruthenian community in Vojvodina, one can enjoy not only local ethnic performances, but also musical groups coming from the Ukraine.

In the field of education we are happy to have Ukrainian studies at the Philological faculty at the Belgrade university and at the Philosophical faculty of the University in Novi Sad, as well as Serbian studies in Kyiv and Lviv. Dozens of students every year join the pool of graduates with Serbian or Ukrainian as their main discipline. In addition, the two Ministries of Education issue annual and mutual scholarships for studies of any subject in the Ukraine or Serbia. We are also working to revive old ties between the Academies of Sciences and Arts, especially in natural subjects.

A very important step was the recent publication of probably the first ever History of the Ukraine in the Serbian language (Kratka Istorija Ukrajine Arkadija Žukovskog i Oresta Subteljnog, Dan Graf 2018) in an attempt to help Serbs learn this subject from Ukrainians, and not some other sources. After all, we have so much in common in our history. For example, your own historian, Ljubivoje Cerović, in his book “Serbs in the Ukraine” (a publication by the Museum of Vojvodina) stated clearly that “the Ukraine is an old land of the Serbs” (“Ukrajina je Prapostojbina Srba“). And your famous archbishop, Sveti Sava, took his sacred vows in the old Rus monastery of St. Panteleimon in 1192 (Rus here means the old Kyiv state, not the Russia of Moscow).

  1. You are quite involved in cultural and charity events in Serbia and you, yourself, organize many of them. Can you tell us more about this year’s activities?

To be frank, we do not give much to charities in Serbia, for several reasons. First, the Ukraine is in a state of war with Russia, and we have a lot of our own people who need help. We just do not have the extra funds for that. Second, traditionally Ukrainians are a self-help nation. We prefer to be given opportunities and tools, so we can earn our own living. Having said that, of course I fully acknowledge that in every society there are groups of people who need special care and protection, and the right government policies must take care of that. The Embassy of the Ukraine has taken a guardianship over one boarding house for orphans in Belgrade. We do our best to help those children occasionally, for instance with Christmas gifts or with some funds for small repairs or the purchase of a TV set. All that money comes from the personal pockets of our diplomats. Taking this opportunity, I would like to praise the mindful policy of the Serbian authorities who strive to integrate orphans into society, so they can go to ordinary schools with other children, while they stay at their boarding house just for the night and for meals.

Besides that, two years ago, the Embassy of the Ukraine participated in the Christmas charity bazaar at the Belgrade exhibition center (Beogradski Sajam) by offering our national handicraft, products and foods.

  1. How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight?

The Ukraine is a very big country by European standards (bigger than France per territory and # 6 in Europe per population). Even after the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of its eastern part, my country has plenty of very beautiful and interesting sites for tourists. One can enjoy urban tourism: Orthodox Kyiv with dozens of churches, murals, modern museums and galleries, concert halls and theatres; Lviv with its multiculturalism, its Serbian and Vuk Karađić streets (Ulica Srpska I Ulica Vuka Karađića); the cosmopolitan seaside of Odesa with strong Jewish and Greek components; Vinnytsia with the biggest musical fountain in Europe; Dnipro or Kharkiv with their very strong scientific schools. Or one can go on a rural hike, visiting picturesque locations from deep forests in the north to the only official sand desert in Europe in the Kherson region, to the Carpathian mountains where the local nature and culture are so very similar to Šumadija. One can take a special tour of Ukrainian churches and lavras all around the country. Or one can visit annual folk festivals in Myrhorod.

In addition, every year Ukraine hosts many big sporting championships or concerts by top class world music celebrities. In 2017, about 15 million tourists visited the Ukraine, and the numbers are growing every year. Apart from the occupied territories, the rest of the Ukraine is safe, lively and fun.

  1. What are the things you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

I like how Serbs treat their children. They talk and play with them a lot, especially fathers.

I like your nature and your sky. When the cold and warm air collide, one can see very beautiful colors in the sky.

I like your organic foods, which are grown basically in all private village households. I wish there were more biodynamic farms in Serbia.

I spend my free time doing different kinds of sports, attending concerts, reading books on Serbian history, collecting wild mushrooms and growing things in my own garden.


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