Interview Mr. Sergii Shutenko, Ambassador of Ukraine.

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Your Excellency Mr. Ambassador, on December 18 2018, you presented your credentials to the President of the Hellenic Republic. Would you like to outline your first priorities upon the assumption of your duties?

My first priority as Ambassador is promotion and support of friendly relations between Ukraine and the Hellenic Republic that are based on traditions of mutual trust, common spiritual values and fruitful partnership for the benefit of both peoples.

We have great potential for cooperation in different spheres of mutual interest in political, economic, investment, educational and cultural areas.

And I am confident that further development of excellent relations between Ukraine and the Hellenic Republic will contribute to preservation of united Europe with common values and perspectives.

Of course, priority of vital importance for us is restoration of territorial integrity of Ukraine and stopping Russian aggression.

It is five years ago that Russia gravely violated international law when it started on a course of action to illegally occupy Crimea and expanded its aggression into new areas, notably its occupation of parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The result of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is dramatic and unprecedented in post-war Europe. Today more than 13 thousand Ukrainians have been killed, 30 thousand wounded and 1.5 million people displaced.
7% of our territory is occupied. The economic and environmental damages are also immense. Russian occupation of Crimea and Donbas costs Ukraine 17% of GDP.

Restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine is needed, not only to ensure the future for Ukraine’s citizens – but to renew trust in the European and world security system, which is based on an unconditional respect for the norms of international law and serious consequences for those states seeking to override these laws.

We highly appreciate firm support by the Hellenic Republic for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. In particular, the Hellenic Republic supported the UN GA Resolutions “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” (December 22, 2018) as well as supported and became co-sponsor of the Resolution “Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” (December 17, 2019).

We also thank for assistance of the Hellenic Side in the issue of invigoration in Greece of Ukrainian children – victims of war from the Donbass region, as well as from vulnerable groups.

These generous projects are fulfilled due to the great support by our Honorary Consuls of Ukraine, the Hellenic-Ukrainian Chamber (Hellenic-Ukrainian CCI), Union of Ukrainian-Greek friendship «Faros», municipalities and religious community.

In the framework of the cultural programs in Athens, young Ukrainians every year also have a unique opportunity to visit the historic-architectural reserve of Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, as well as had an exciting sea trip. We are really grateful for this to the leadership of these institutions, to all who contributed to the implementation of this project and provided their support to the children during their stay in Greece.

Do you believe that Greece and Ukraine could further expand their cooperation in fields such as Commerce and Culture?

As I mentioned Ukraine and Greece have great potential for bilateral mutually beneficial cooperation.

Over more than 25 years since the diplomatic relations between Ukraine and the Hellenic Republic were established the significant progress has been achieved between our countries in different spheres.

Our close ties based on mutual respect, common spiritual and cultural heritage. We share common spiritual ideals and democratic social values. It is a significant fact that the well-known Greek revolutionary organization “Filiki Eteria”, which played a decisive role in the national struggle for freedom and independence of Greece, was born on the Ukrainian soil in the city of Odesa. And the Ukrainian side is going to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Greek Revolution for Independence of 1821 with a wide range of events, too.

An important factor in solidifying the friendly relations between Ukraine and Greece is the countries’ intensive humanitarian ties, as well as the presence of a Ukrainian community in Greece and a Greek community in Ukraine.

Currently, the Ukrainian diaspora numbers up to 25000 members. Ukrainians in Greece are unified in national-cultural associations and they are very active.

Also, from the moment Ukraine regained its independence, the revival of the national-cultural activity of the numerous Greek community in Ukraine has taken place. There are Greek national-cultural public associations in the different regions of Ukraine, which all are part of the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine with its center in the city of Mariupol. Nowadays, the Greek language is taught in more than 40 secondary schools as well as at the State universities in Mariupol, Kyiv, Odesa and Lviv.

So, maintaining the contacts in humanitarian and educational spheres, through the different cultural projects – is one of our priorities.

Very soon, in April, we are going to present in Athens, in cinema “Danaos”, the documentary «MYTH», directed by Leonid Kanter & Ivan Yasnii, based on real story of Wassyl Slipak.

The film depicts the life of Ukrainian singer Wassyl Slipak, the Hero of Ukraine, the Knight of Orders «For Courage» and the Golden Star, a world-famous opera singer, soloist of the Parisian National Opera, who left the big stage to become a warrior and gave his life, defending Ukraine against Russian aggression.

A painting exhibition is going to begin in October at Athens, inviting  contemporary Ukrainian artists to demonstrate their work. The exhibition will continue for a week and some of these artists will be creating their work in the picturesque seaside areas of Greece, based on their experiences and interpretation of their impressions about the life around.

Also given the deep, historical ties, existing between Greece and Ukraine, Ukrainian Side is working on the research on the matter of activities of the first Ukrainian Diplomatic Mission in Greece, opened in 1919 by the Ambassador of Ukrainian People’s Republic Fedir Matoushevskiy. The research is carried out by the experts of Odesa Region State Archives with the support of Hellenic-Ukrainian Chamber.

As to perspective of economic cooperation I would like to mention that our countries have unique opportunities for cooperation in the agricultural, energy, IT sectors.

Ukraine is ready to develop pragmatic economic cooperation with Greece on a reciprocal basis. The economy of Ukraine has been growing for 13 quarters in a row. 3.4% of GDP is the growth of the last year. Ukraine continues its success in economic transformation – our country has improved its position in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report from 76 to 71.

Do you regard Geopolitics and Geoeconomics as factors with a crucial role to play between the nations in the forthcoming decade?

Of course, Geopolitics and Geoeconomics has always played important role in development of the world.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is violation of international law and remains to be a direct threat to international security with serious implications for international law.

It is Ukraine that happened to be on the cutting edge of clash of civilizations, at the forefront of protecting our common values, the struggle between good and evil. Only by restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, we will revive the confidence in the rule of international law.

One more threat today is the North Stream-2. Today there is no doubt that energy security in Europe depends to a great extent on the stability of Ukraine’s energy sector. My country has proved to be a reliable gas supplier to the EU, and it remains the main transit country of Russian gas for the EU customers.

It is vital for us to attain energy independence. And we will find opportunities for the national gas-extracting company to be effective and achieve the goals that the state is facing as a whole. Our objective is to produce more, to consume effectively and to transform from the importing country into a country that is capable to fully satisfy its demands in the resources.

One of the strategic objectives for the Government is to achieve energy independence and to switch from being an importer to a potential exporter of resources in the future.

Mr. Ambassador, are you concerned that these factors could, under extreme circumstances, give rise to local disputes or even conflicts?

After the Russian Federation occupied Crimea, we witness progressing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula as well as the whole area of Black Sea and Azov Sea. Moscow continues to transform Crimea into a huge military base – with land, air and naval components – which threatens the whole region.

On November, 2018 Russia resorted to an open and deliberate act of aggression against Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and illegally detained Ukrainian seamen and ships.

Activity of the Russian Federation has far-reaching consequences for security of Ukraine and the whole region.

This raises concern not only of Ukraine but also of international partners.

From our side, Ukraine remains committed to peaceful resolution of all conflicts and disputes by politico-diplomatic means.

Greece and Ukraine have already attained a very good level of relations. Do you see any new fields or directions in which they could be improved?

I believe that successful bilateral economic and trade cooperation can give strong impetus to development of fruitful cooperation in other spheres of mutual interest.

In particular, Ukraine has a great potential in IT, agriculture and energy sectors.

Ukraine is the largest exporter of IT services in Europe. The technology sector became the country’s second export industry in 2018.

The country ranks 24 in the world in the attractiveness of software development. And freelancers from Ukraine rank seventh in quality and efficiency in the world.

About 185,000 developers and 4,000 tech companies operate in Ukraine.

20% of the world’s leading companies have their offices based in Ukraine. Among them are Microsoft, Samsung, ABBY, Huawei and others.

More than 100 of Fortune 500 companies use the services of Ukrainian companies. At the same time, 18 outsourcers from Ukraine are in the top 100 best outsourcing companies in the world.

By European standards Ukraine’s land resources are enormous. Over 70% of the country’s total area is agricultural land. This amounts to just over 42 million hectares of which 32 million is arable land suitable for grain and vegetable farming. In addition, Ukraine possesses a significant amount of rich fertile black soil known as “chornozem” representing 30% of the world’s reserves.

The largest portion of Ukraine’s present agricultural output consists of a diverse combination of cereal and forage crops including wheat, maize, barley, sunflowers, sugar beets, tobacco, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Another major growth opportunity for Ukraine lies in the area of organic farming where the country’s unspoiled soil allows it to become a major producer of organic food. Many hundreds of thousands of acres are already devoted to organic farming and in time Ukraine expects to become a major exporter to Western Europe to meet the ever-increasing demand for such organics.

Ukraine maintains top-3 position as a large producer of cereal grains, particularly wheat. Last year Ukraine reaped 70 million tons of grain for the first time in its history. Ukraine has already entered the top three major grain exporters and top ten grain producers.

Energy efficiency and energy security are now operative words for companies and countries alike; going forward, renewable and alternative energy issues will only become more important.

Ukraine is taking important strides to increase the use of renewable-energy sources and alternative fuels as part of its broader strategy to reduce its reliance on traditional fossil fuels. It has been estimated that Ukraine has the potential to increase its use of renewable energy ten fold, by the year 2030 and reduce its natural gas consumption by 15% over the same period.

The opportunities to invest in Ukraine’s alternative energy sector are exceedingly favorable as the country has diverse reserves of raw material and a well-educated workforce possessing the technical know-how required to develop and introduce the latest commercial advances in this sector. As a result, interest in Ukraine’s renewable energy sector continues to grow and the government estimates that the total investment in alternative energy will reach 18 billion USD by the year 2020.

As the new Ambassador of Ukraine in Greece, what are your first impressions of our country? Have you ever visited Greece before, either on a mission or privately?

I am not a newcomer to Greece. My first experience to meet, to learn Greece was in 2006-2010, during my Service as Consul General of Ukraine in Thessaloniki. And that was a spectacular and positive experience.

I have always been intrigued and deeply fascinated by the mysteries of the land where one of the greatest civilizations and religious thrived and left their footprints. The charm of Acropolis, the Athens City, the beauty of Greek nature get me inspired to know more about your great culture.

And now after just first few months here, in Athens, I think we’re in a very positive moment in terms of the relationship. And I’ll do all my best for further development of successful Ukrainian-Greek relations.

I would say Greece has Ukraine as a real reliable partner and I think we’ve proven that repeatedly over decades.

Could you kindly define your future goals?

As I mentioned my first goal is all-round development of relations and cooperation between Ukraine and the Hellenic Republic in all spheres of mutual interest for the benefit of Ukrainian and Greek peoples.

There are many plans and projects that we are going to carry out in political, economic, trade, educational and humanitarian areas.

We have effective political dialogue at the high level and we are looking for its fruitful continuation. Now we consider possibilities of organizing the visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to the Hellenic Republic as well as a visit of representatives of the MP’s Group of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Interparliamentary Relations with the Hellenic Republic in response of the visit to Ukraine of representatives of the Greece-Ukraine Friendship Group of the Hellenic Parliament in May 2018.

And we expect further strong support of the Hellenic Republic of territorial integrity of Ukraine and our efforts to stop Russian aggression to Ukraine.

One of the core goals is the promotion of our Ukrainian companies in Greece. It is necessary to discover the new fields of mutually beneficial interest. I would like to expand the nomenclature of Ukrainian goods on the Greek market.

Ukraine has a promising potential in tourism sphere. The total number of international tourists visited Ukraine in 2018 was 1 million 930 thousand people, from Europe – 34.7%. We want to attract more tourists to visit Ukraine.

Every year Ukraine holds international exhibitions, festivals, international sport games and other interesting events.

The Eurovision 2017 music competition was held in Kyiv as well as last year’s Champions League final showed that Ukraine can be an excellent host of sport or cultural events at the highest international levels.

Strengthening ties also in humanitarian sphere between our countries is one of the things that also are on my list as the Ukrainian Ambassador to Greece. Meetings with representatives of the cultural elite, scientific and educational circles are planned. The cooperation with the Ukrainian community is gaining intensity, with which a series of important cultural events have been organized.

As I mentioned already, Ukraine and Greece have rich spiritual and cultural heritage, share common spiritual ideals and democratic social values. So, I have discussed with Greek officials participation of Ukrainian Side in celebration the 200th anniversary of Greek Revolution for Independence of 1821.

We are ready to deepen cooperation and maintain the ties in educational sphere.  For example, we have very close relations between the Mariupol State University and the University of Ioannina.

Last year a solemn meeting on the occasion of conferring an Honorary Doctorate to Rector of the Mariupol State University, Corresponding member of National Academy of Educational Science of Ukraine, Professor Konstantin Balabanov took place in Ioannina. Thus, the Greek colleagues recognized the significant contribution of K.Balabanov to strengthening friendship and Ukraine- Greek cooperation, his successful efforts towards popularizing Greek language, history and culture in Ukraine.

Over the years of fruitful cooperation with the active assistance of the Embassy of Ukraine to the Hellenic Republic and the Embassy of the Hellenic Republic in Ukraine as well as the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine, more than 250 teachers and students from the Mariupol State University have been taking part in scientific, educational and cultural programs at the University of Ioannina.

It is also very important to develop regional cooperation between our countries. In February I visited the Western Greece. The main purpose of this trip was to intensify regional bilateral cooperation in the economic, religious, cultural and humanitarian spheres. It was very interesting, useful and informative. I have established many contacts with business representatives. We outlined the directions of future cooperation in economic, cultural, educational, tourist spheres. And I plan to further explore this direction and to visit many other regions and islands of Greece.

An important area of cooperation between Ukraine and Greece is the development of relations between sister cities which is based on a number of legal documents on interregional cooperation. Nowadays more than 25 such agreements have been signed between different cities and regions of Ukraine and Greece, including twinning agreements between the cities of Kyiv and Athens, Odessa and Piraeus, the city Mariupol-island Rhodes, urban-type settlement Sartana-Zografou, urban-type settlement Sartana–island Kithnos, the city of Kylia of the Odesa region – the city Farsala, and others.

The intense schedule has already been chalked out by the Embassy in collaboration with the different institutions as well as in Kyiv and in Athens. As for now I have received wonderful support by all my Greek counterparts extended in all areas of our relations, be it political, business and trade, or cultural. And I wish that more people-to-people contacts be formed and developed between our two countries.