Dr. Volodymyr Tolkach, Ambassador of the Republic of Ukraine
In many ways my professional career mirrors that of my country’s history, remarked His Excellency Dr. Volodymyr Tolkach, Ambassador of the Republic of Ukraine to Kuwait at the start of an exclusive interview with The Times. “In 1991, when my country became independent, following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, I was an Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Kiev.
I headed the division assigned to monitor measure and manage radiation in the aftermath of the disaster that struck Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine. It was a time of rapid and often dramatic changes, both for my country and our people. Perhaps, it is only a reflection of priorities that many people not only changed their beliefs and ideas but also their jobs during that. In 1994, I left the university and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs entering into a career of international relations.”
“I was initially involved in developing bilateral relations, between Ukraine and the Russian Federation and with the Republic of Belarus, under the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States. During this period, I also graduated from the Diplomatic Academy with a Masters in International Relations. For a while, I headed the Europe division related to our interactions with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), before beginning work at our missions in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. I also served as Consul at our embassy in the Republic of Macedonia.”
“My experience of the Arab world began when I was posted for over a year as Charge d’Affaires at our embassy in Baghdad. In 2010, I arrived in Kuwait to take up my first posting as an ambassador and I must say that I am extremely pleased to be in the country and head our mission here. I feel that this is the first time in my diplomatic career that I am engaged in doing what an ambassador and an embassy should be primarily doing — building people to people relations and enhancing bilateral trade. My embassy is fully committed to and engaged in boosting mutual cooperation and creating positive links that complement the growth and development strategies of Ukraine and Kuwait.”
Saying that Ukraine and Kuwait signed a memorandum of understanding to initiate diplomatic relations and open embassies in respective capitals in 1993, the diplomat added, “In 1993, Kuwait opened its diplomatic mission in Kiev and we opened our embassy here in 2003. Since then we have worked in creating necessary preconditions for furthering fruitful bilateral relations. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic relations between our two countries. On this occasion, we have invited a special trade delegation from the Ukrainian National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to visit Kuwait.”
The delegation will be headed by Volodymyr Shchelkunov, the Chairman and Chair of the Public Council under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. The visit aims to introduce the investment capacity and export potential of Ukraine and highlight relevant investment projects, as well as industrial products. During their visit, Mr. Shchelkunov and his delegation will hold discussion with their counterparts in the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and interact with the business community in Kuwait, to build new ties and enhance existing commercial and trade links between businesses in the two countries.
Detailing bilateral trade between the two countries as steadily growing, the envoy explained that at the moment Ukraine does not import Kuwait oil or its derivatives, mainly due to the shipping distance and the availability of energy sources closer at hand. However, on the export of Ukrainian goods to Kuwait, Ambassador Tolkach was of the opinion that, “while numbers record the exact volume of commerce they do not fully reflect the many factors influencing international trade. For instance, in 2008, Ukraine exported goods worth around US$14 million, this fell to around US$ 3.8 in 2011 before again rising three-fold to US$ 10.7 million in 2012. This sharp fluctuation was influenced by the global financial crisis that significantly impacted trade. Last year, export of commodities from Ukraine to Kuwait increased in all sectors, especially in agricultural products, which accounted for nearly three-quarters of all exports. We are expecting higher export figures this year, not only in agricultural goods but also in technical equipment and industrial products.”
Ukraine is considered a leader in renewable energy, intermodal transport and logistics, aircraft production and maintenance and in the supply and servicing of oil field equipment. Nevertheless, with its fertile steppes crisscrossed by the River Dnieper and its tributaries, agriculture continues to be the mainstay of Ukrainian economy. The embassy is constantly looking at ways to present more information about Ukrainian products and investment opportunities by organizing events and road-shows that help boost mutual cooperation in various sectors.
“We hope that the upcoming visit by our trade delegation will enhance the exchange of business information and attract investment in everything from agricultural goods to hi-tech products, and also create an environment that helps to open the Ukrainian market to Kuwaiti investors and business people. Last year also we had a delegation from a specific region of Ukraine that provided details on the potential of agricultural investments in our country. Currently more than ten projects have been proposed for investments and we are awaiting response from the Kuwaiti side.”
“A specific project that has garnered a lot of interest from investors is the building a large international medical facility in Crimea based on the globally renowned Intensive Neurophysiological Rehabilitation System (INRS) developed by Professor Vladimir Koziavkin at his International Clinic of Rehabilitation. INRS has been found to be very effective in the treatment of various forms of cerebral palsy, as well as in neurological, orthopedic and somatic diseases. Using modern diagnostic technologies and therapeutic protocols, the center is improving the life quality of patients, their mobility and social adaptation.”
On the governmental level, Ukraine and Kuwait will soon hold a joint commission for trade and technical cooperation that we hope will further advance bilateral relations and incentivize individuals and businesses in Kuwait to invest in Ukrainian private sector, said the envoy. He elaborated, “Last year we created a new system for investments in Ukraine with strong legislations that are considered by experts to be among the best in east and central Europe. We have also created a national agency for investments and projects in Ukraine. This agency is engaged in improving legislative and legal frameworks and introducing necessary technical standards to attract international direct investments in our country. There is a proposal, still in its initial stages, which envisages granting special visas to business people investing over US$ 50,000 in specific sectors of the industry.”
Regarding the controversy regarding stem cell therapy for diabetes, the ambassador held the view that there were two sides to an argument and it would help if people with differing opinions were able to sit down and discuss the various issues involved in the matter. Given the prevalence of diabetes in the region and its importance to the health and well-being of many people in the country, we are examining the prospect of bringing specialists in this particular field to hold discussions and seminars to shed more light on this topic, noted the envoy
Describing relations on the popular level to be excellent, Ambassador Tolkach added, “Ukraine as a travel destination needs no special introduction to Kuwait; the Crimea and Odessa region on the Black Sea shore are popular holiday destination for many Kuwaitis. The height of summer in these areas is similar to spring or autumn in Kuwait and in winter, resorts along the Carpathian Mountains afford excellent skiing facilities on par with that in Switzerland. Many other Ukrainian cities, including Kiev, Lviv and Yalta are open-air museums showcasing architecture spanning medieval Byzantine, renaissance, classical, baroque and modern. In addition, there are an abundance of theaters, galleries, museums and libraries to entertain and inform visitors on the artistic, ethnic and cultural heritage of Ukraine.”
Cultural exchanges between countries are an excellent way for developing relations on the popular level, opined Ambassador Tolkach continuing, “The embassy has been actively involved in initiating cultural dialogue between Ukraine and Kuwait through visits by several cultural troupes to Kuwait. Here, I would like to express my thanks to Kuwait’s National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters (NCCAL), especially its Secretary General Ali Al Yuha, without whose support we would not have been able to organize these important events. In May 2012, we held the ‘Ukrainian Cultural Days in Kuwait’ during which we had concerts by dance troupes, as well as demonstrated paintings by several renowned Ukrainian painters. Also, in January of this year, in response to an invitation from NCCAL, we participated in the annual Al-Qurain Cultural Festival with performances by a symphonic orchestra from the famous Tchaikovsky Academy of Music in Kiev.”
Disclosing that in May 2013, the embassy planned to bring to Kuwait the UNESCO acclaimed Petrykivka Art Painting of Ukraine, which highlights decorative and ornamental painting from the 19th to 21st century, the envoy said, “These cultural events provide an opportunity for the public in Kuwait to appreciate Ukrainian culture and art. I am also extremely pleased to learn that my counterpart in Kiev, His Excellency Yousef Hussain Al-Qabandi, the Ambassador of Kuwait to Ukraine, is intending to hold a ‘Kuwaiti Cultural Days in Ukraine’ festival, in the near future. Such cultural exchanges are important in building bridges between people and creating an atmosphere of tolerance, peace and coexistence between nations.”
Admitting that currently the number of students enrolled in Ukrainian universities had declined, Ambassador Tolkach explained, “Unfortunately, due to some misunderstanding there is view that our diplomas are not as highly valued as before. This is something that a fact-finding mission comprised of experts in the field of education could ascertain by visiting Ukraine and experiencing first-hand the quality of education in our major universities. Following privatization there are a few colleges of questionable repute, but this is something that needs to be discussed and examined on the Ministry of Education level and we could set up control processes so that Kuwaiti students can once again start attending colleges in Ukraine.”
“On a final note I will add that bilateral relations between Ukraine and Kuwait are headed in the right direction on all fronts and what I would like to see is more Kuwaitis in Ukraine — more students, more business people and many more tourists,” concluded the Ukrainian envoy.