As a Chairman of the British Ukrainian Society Lord Risby knows a lot about the UK-Ukraine relationship. The latter is a not-for-profit organisation, which seeks to raise the profile of Ukraine in Great Britain and strengthen relations at all levels between the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Lord Risby believes that being properly conceived and implemented, the festival in October will foster the image of Ukraine and help it achieve the international recognition it really deserves.
As a Chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, how would you assess British-Ukrainian relations?
I think we’ve started very positively. Britain really believes, probably more than other European countries, that Ukraine’s destiny lies in Europe and the European Union. We are really supportive of you, and public opinion in Britain has always been in favour of embracing any country which was formerly the part of the old Soviet empire. We would like to see Ukraine make progress into the EU. The process is being undertaken at the moment to go on the European track – the British ambassador is moving this on with other ambassadors – we will know more about this by November. Ukrainian parliamentarians know well that British politicians are keen to help to overcome any possible obstacles for Ukraine to become a fully European nation.
And what are the main benefits for Ukraine in being the part of the European community, in your view? How will our life change?
Much greater commercial integration with the European single market is of great benefit. Additionally, Ukraine is aware that the reform of judicial processes is desirable for investment and other purposes and further integration with the European Union will help to bring this about. Over the years this should enhance the reputation of Ukraine as part of the European family of nations.
How will The Days of Ukraine in Great Britain change the image of Ukraine?
In the past few years London has taken on a worldwide importance – it’s such a lively and open city. So, what happens in London now is more important than has ever been. News about the festival will spread worldwide, so the effect for Ukraine is going to be overwhelmingly positive.
What lessons can Ukraine learn from Great Britain in terms of country branding?
What we have learnt most recently in Britain is that visitors have overall enjoyed coming here and learning about our way of life, most notably for the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee of our Queen. We have a reputation for being both true to our traditions and yet modern and outward-looking. These characteristics over time could be associated with Ukraine as interest in and knowledge of Ukraine grows.
What image of Ukraine should we convey to Europe?
In many ways it has already been conveyed. The successful Euro 2012 matches that took place in Ukraine helped a great deal to put Ukraine on the world’s map. The festival that will take place in October in London will also very much help to put forward a positive image of Ukraine. Many people know that it is a country with enormous natural wealth – its agriculture is extraordinary. Still, it’s a long way from England, and people need to know more. And those in our Parliament can assist Ukraine to project its image to the world, with its brand clearer and well known to people in different countries.
What does Ukraine actually mean for you?
It means a great deal to me personally because for a number of years I have been lucky enough to be the Chairman of the British Ukrainian Society and, as a consequence of that, I’ve been lucky to go to Ukraine for many times, which I always enjoy. I’ve got to know many Ukrainians, but also I’ve helped to encourage the relationship between our two countries.
When I first came to Kyiv, I remember thinking how beautiful Kyiv was with lots of its historical buildings. Also the river seemed so appealing. I have always been struck by warmth of welcome I’ve received whenever I come to Ukraine. Kyiv is an exceptional place where there are magnificent churches with golden domes. The city is especially beautiful and appealing when the sun shines.
Ukraine is an enormous country. I’ve travelled to some degree around Ukraine and would like to do more. I can say it is a huge country of immense diversity and immense beauty. You’ve got mountainous areas, the wonderful Black Sea; you’ve got the whole variety! When you come from England, which is a relatively small island, Ukraine seems really huge.
What associations does Ukrainian culture evoke for you?
I love the paintings done by Ukrainian artists. We had exhibitions of Ukrainian artists in London that we sponsored. Your artistic tradition is special – you’ve got a unique quality of light and a magnificent landscape. Ukrainian cuisine can be delicious. While Ukrainian vodka is well appreciated by people who like vodka, Crimean wines are also terrific.