The FIRTASH FOUNDATION has announced an unprecedented campaign: The Days of Ukraine in the UK, a festival that will run October 17-19. To find out why the UK was chosen as the place for the first such Festival, how the organizers envision this event, and what they expect, we spoke to the person who started it all, the Foundation’s director and Organizing Committee Chair, Lada Firtash.
Ms. Firtash, why did you choose to hold the Days of Ukraine in Great Britain?
We’ve been promoting Ukrainian culture and history in the United Kingdom since 2008, when the Ukrainian Studies program at University of Cambridge was launched. This program has given foreign students an opportunity to learn, not only the Ukrainian language, but also the history and literature of Ukraine, and to get to know our traditions. Still, we wanted Ukraine to be discovered by a wider public, not just students.
We saw that British-Ukrainian cultural ties were not really moving as quickly as people in both countries would like to see. I’m convinced that this new project will go a long way to resolving this and to bringing about deeper interaction even in other areas of international relations.
How did you come up with the idea of having the Days of Ukraine in the UK?
Our Foundation has been working in Great Britain at a number of levels for some time now. By setting up a scholarship program, the Firtash Foundation has made it possible for dozens of talented Ukrainians to get a degree at Cambridge. According to the QS World University Ranking, Cambridge University is recognized as N°1 in the world. It has produced 88 Nobel Prizewinners and over its 800-year history, it has turned into not only one of the best universities in the world, but also one of the best known brands in the world. These 800 years give it a claim on eternity, I believe. I take my hat off to the group of scholars who founded a new university at Cambridge in 1209! And it was Dmytro Firtash who opened the doors to centuries-old Cambridge for Ukraine.
Unfortunately, right now, it’s fair to say that people in Europe are not especially familiar with Ukraine. This means we have to work on Ukraine’s renown in the world by organizing social and cultural events. This particular idea did not come immediately, but gradually we began to understand that a project of this kind would be a good launch to systematic work on raising Ukraine’s profile abroad. Vital as such social initiatives are, however, we can only do something on this scale with the support of philanthropists.
That is why I, as the director of the Firtash Foundation, and my husband, Dmytro Firtash, decided to take on this challenge and show the world a different Ukraine; a young, contemporary country that is only 22 years old but is nevertheless a unique, original, highly cultured and highly spiritual European nation.
When we talk about this new series of projects, we understand that this is the transition to the next level of rapprochement between the cultures of Ukraine and Great Britain.
Why specifically a cultural project?
Yet I’m convinced that cultural relations can improve cooperation between countries, bring people together and help us become a strategic partner to some of the most developed countries in the world.
This premier of a new series of project is also an extension of the cultural and educational program that we launched in Great Britain several years ago. We decided on a very ambitious goal: to open Ukraine to Europeans as a spirited land with many cultural achievements and immense creative and intellectual potential. If you look at the project’s logo, a key, it is intended as a symbol. I believe that The Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom festival will really be a key to understanding our country, a key that will help all who so desire to open Ukraine for themselves.
What format will this event follow and how will it represent Ukraine?
For three days, London will experience a series of brilliant festivals, fashion shows, literary readings, a country fair, and an art exhibition of Ukrainian artists that will continue for another 10 days.
This will be a classic cultural festival, complete with a country fair where visitors can try Ukrainian food, watch artisans at their craft and buy their wares. On closing night, October 19, we’ve got a gala concert with a line-up of top Ukrainian performers.
This year, we were assisted in finding the best curators for each of the festival programs by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.
How do you expect this particular event to make a difference?
Ukraine will be presenting its best voices and its most outstanding creative personalities. These are people who have become cultural brands. All of them together will present the image of a great country that is talented and multi-faceted.
We expect more than 100,000 visitors to attend these events. Our goal is to “hook” everyone who visits this festival, to engage them in a deeper cultural dialog, to generate interest among Britons and a desire to learn more about Ukraine, so that it is no longer a blank spot on the map of Europe.
Today, I think there are few people who have any doubts that Ukraine shares European values, that it wants to establish a successful state and to place democratic principles at the foundation of this state. For us, Europe is the best model. We want Europeans to see Ukraine as a modern, cultured country that is developing as part of the civilized world.
As a prominent businessman and philanthropist, what role has your husband played in this project?
For him, as a Ukrainian, a patriot and a man who cares about the future of his homeland, this is a very important project. Dmytro is already playing a part in the development and establishment of Ukraine. For him, patriotism is not a matter of slogans but of action.
And culture is most accessible language, the one that can hook people, regardless of their nationality. It’s a universal way of communicating. It is clear and unambiguous, and it can have a huge impact on people.
Dmytro Firtash’s love for Ukraine and his desire to bring people closer to its culture found a response in the British establishment, which supports The Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom festival at the highest levels.
What does this project mean to you?
It means doing something significant for my country—and that’s the best reward for all our efforts. For starters, I feel lucky to have such an opportunity and to be able to carry it out. It’s also fantastic that more and more philanthropists have appeared in Ukraine who are willing to share knowledge and experience, and to finance projects of this kind. Without them, these projects would not happen. All this testifies to the inner culture of the person, their desire to be useful to their society and to become the driving force behind constructive change.
What happens next?
Of course, we plan to continue. The Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom is not your ordinary event. It’s the launch of a deep cultural dialog, a process that is close to our hearts as the organizers, and to Ukraine as a nation. We understand the enormous responsibility and have been investing in increasing understanding of our country in Europe.
This event will help people recognize Ukraine as one of the largest states in Europe, one that shares European values, that is going through a deep transformation process and is gradually becoming a modern democratic state.
I will do everything in my power to make sure that our cultural festival becomes an annual event. For one thing, I’d like to involve as many creative people in our events as possible. We need to leave the brightest and most pleasant impression and to get people excited about Ukraine.
All of us on the team have invested our best in this first project, we are determined to continue to do our best to properly show our country with all its plusses, to connect with people and to get them talking about Ukraine, to generate a lot of positive, creative energy and share ideas.