Q: Ukraine opened its embassy in Kenya in 2004, despite having established diplomatic relations in 1993. Why the delay?
A: Opening an embassy 10 years later was not for political reasons but economic. Ukraine was facing a lot of problems after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as did Kenya. We were not able to establish an embassy immediately because we had to first develop structures for diplomatic relations. We couldn’t open everywhere and we started with missions to the UN. We understood all along we needed to establish good diplomatic and political relations with East Africa and Kenya is the leader in sub-Saharan Africa. When we decided to open an embassy, it brought a lot of benefits to both countries.
Q: How have the relations developed since then?
A: We achieved much better level of political dialogue. Economic and education cooperation increased because it is different having a consulate or embassy here and not having one. At the very beginning, we had an embassy in Egypt and I don’t think many students would travel all the way there to get a visa, then come back and then travel again. We also developed a positive level of political dialogue.
We don’t have major misunderstandings. Politically, we satisfied with our level of dialogue and we now understand Kenya’s priorities. We are now trying to support each other in international fora bilaterally and in issues important to both of us. For example, for Ukraine, the issue of territorial integrity and sovereignty is very critical to us and we have the full understanding and support of the Kenyan Foreign ministry.
Q: How practical are these recent diplomatic engagements?
A: We have an MoU between our Foreign ministries on political consultations. In implementing it, last year our delegation led by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergiy Kyslytsia consulted PS Monica Juma, identifying priorities for engagement. We plan to exchange visits by our Foreign ministers. Our Foreign Affairs minister Pavlo Klimkin invited Ambassador Amina Mohamed to visit Ukraine to develop dialogue. It would be very interesting for her to visit Kiev, where she studied. Our minister would be happy to visit Kenya to achieve the next step of our dialogue and establish a framework for signing bilateral agreements in the legal and economic spheres.
These agreements include avoiding double taxation, promoting investment and establishing a Bilateral Commission for our issues. We look forward to signing agreements on education, promoting more Kenyan students studying in Ukraine and cooperating in science. We are also looking into agreements enhancing our relations, such as the draft agreement establishing direct flight connection between Kenya and Ukraine and an MoU between ministries of Agriculture. Our embassy is trying to promote relations very intensively.
For example, Kenya this year faced a food shortage and through our established relations, the ministry of Agriculture removed the 50 per cent duty barrier on Ukrainian companies to export their products. From May to August, we delivered 120,000 metric tonnes of yellow maize and this was possible through cooperation. We are still capable of delivering many other things. We are among the world's top 10-grain producers and exporter number one of sunflower oil. We are also good pharmaceuticals and have wide range of medicines, such as generic drugs, insulin and TB drugs.
Q: Kenyan students are increasingly interested in studying in Eastern Europe. What incentivises them and what other opportunities do they have in Ukraine?
A: The most popular discipline in Ukraine among Kenyan students is medicine. There is also interest in law and engineering. The cost of education in Ukraine is cheaper than in Great Britain and Western Europe. Currently, we have up to 200 Kenyan students.This number can increase and we have good professors and popular universities. Nigeria has double that number, comparable to those from Tanzania. That’s why we are trying to create awareness about how Kenyans can study in Ukraine.
Q: Cultural diplomacy is an important tool to enhance diplomatic relations. How well are Kenya and Ukraine doing?
A: We brought Ukrainian movies by young filmmakers and last year we held a Ukrainian week in Nairobi. We are trying to make such projects because it is important to exchange cultures. We have plans to bring Ukrainian singers and representatives of our rich culture. We would benefit by having Kenyan representatives in Ukraine. It would also be helpful to have a Kenya embassy in Ukraine. I would wish to increase the number of Kenyan artistes in Ukraine. If our artistes are not well known in other countries, it means embassies should do more in the sphere of culture.
Q: Which lessons can Kenya can take from your experience in EU integration?
A: Ukraine and Kenya are close in many ways — territory and population are similar, we are in the East and both of us are young democracies. So, we are not hereto teach but to learn more from Kenya. This process of exchange will help us learn through experience. There are lessons in our integration in the EU, where we have a free trade agreement. We could also promote Kenyan goods coming to Europe through Ukraine, as we have experience dealing with the EU.
Q: Terrorism and the refugee crises are international problems. How is Ukraine coping?
A: We stand together with Kenya in the fight against terrorism in every form. We can draft agreements to combat terrorism. This could be another sphere of cooperation and help prevent terrorism. You might say East Europe is not a victim of terrorism compared with other countries. But in Ukraine, we have military conflict with Russia. This brings many other issues, such as special operations and they (Russians or people supported by Russia) are committing terrorist activities in Ukraine. These cases exist and have increased since this conflict started,even before. We feel what terrorism is and understand it very well.
We are not treating migration as a problem at all at the state level, probably because we are not as attractive as Western Europe. We have no quotas. We are trying to reform our migration administration but not because of the migrants. It had been more complicated to get a visa to Ukraine, to visit, work or rejoin family. It is now much easier and the system is efficient and has fewer opportunities for corruption. These reforms include e-visa application, pioneered by Kenya. That’s how we are trying to avoid migration problems.
Q: How can Kenyans learn about opportunities in Ukraine?
A: They can visit our website, social media pages and/or visit the embassy. If you Google Embassy of Ukraine, you will see opportunities from education to trade.