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Hungary, we need your support. Interview of Ambassador of Ukraine Liubov Nepop to Hungarian newspaper "The Budapest Times"
21 November 2016 14:36

The message from the Ukraine embassy is that Hungary was one of the first to recognise its neighbour’s independence, and now needs to help preserve EU unity in backing Ukraine’s territorial integrity and peace by increasing the sanctions pressure on Moscow.

How are Hungarian-Ukrainian relations politically? Is Hungary too close to Russia, which is aggressive in Ukraine?

The relations with Hungary as a neighbouring country, EU and NATO member state are important for Ukraine.
In terms of the ongoing Russian military aggression we expect that our European partners and especially neighbours, who should understand the need for the support of Ukraine the most, will exert their pressure on Russia to stop its aggression in the east of our country and to return the Crimea.
On November 21 Ukraine celebrates the Day of Dignity and Freedom. We remain dedicated to build Ukraine’s future basing on the European Union’s principles, values and standards, but we need the EU’s support on this way.
Russia violated international law by annexing Crimea, adopts measures for its militarisation and has recently held elections to the State Duma in the territory of Crimea, which made the newly elected Russian parliament illegitimate, because most of its deputies were elected taking into account the votes of the Crimean people.
In September Russia banned the activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people.
With its arms and soldiers Russia continues to support Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine. On October 2 the Russia-controlled militants held the so-called primaries. Moscow, instead of condemning this action, which goes totally against the Minsk agreements, stressed its importance.
Continued attacks cannot provide secure conditions for political advancement. There is no progress in the return of hostages. Recently another Ukrainian, a well-known journalist, Roman Sushchenko, was arrested in Moscow and cynically accused of spying.
On September 28 interim results of the investigations of the Malaysian airplane crash over Ukraine, which killed 298 people, clearly stated that the plane was shot down by the Russian rocket launcher called Buk, which was brought to Ukraine and immediately after the crime was sent back to Russia. As in other cases, Russia continues to deny obvious facts. But we hope that our partners will not turn a blind eye to the truth.
I agree that we need to look reality in the eye. But the reality is that Russia is an aggressor country and the relationship with the aggressor cannot be built as if nothing happened.
I agree that co-operation with Russia corresponds to the interests of Europe and Ukraine. But we must equally honestly say that the price of such co-operation cannot be the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the lives of Ukrainians, who are being killed by Russian aggression.
I agree that geography cannot be undone. But this is exactly what Russia is trying to do by violating internationally recognised borders.
I agree that sanctions have not yet achieved the desired result but I am convinced that they helped to stop the attack. If we want to increase their effectiveness, we must strengthen them. Recently Russia’s President Putin requested Washington to lift the sanctions and compensate losses. What more proof is required that the sanctions are working?
If we refuse this one practical instrument of pressure on Russia, what can we offer in return? Pragmatism, which would explain the rejection of the values and solidarity and justify the betrayal of a partner? I sincerely hope that Hungary, which remembers 1956 and which has always been a reliable partner of Ukraine and was one of the first to recognise our independence, will help preserve the unity of the EU in the issues of support of territorial integrity and peace in Ukraine and in prolongation or even strengthening of sanctions pressure on Moscow.

How is trade and business between Hungary and Ukraine?

The development of bilateral trade relations is one of our priorities. Last year our turnover fell 17% and was only USD 2.5 billion. The negative balance for Ukraine amounted to USD 645.0 million. We are working to overcome these negative tendencies.
Ukraine exports electric equipment, electricity, lumber, steel production and light industry machinery. Hungary exports electric equipment, chemical products, pharmaceuticals, crop production, oil and processed products, vehicles. Through Hungary we also receive gas: 1.5 billion cubic metres in 2014-2016.
Hungarian investments in Ukraine amount to USD 610.4 million (1.4% of total investments in Ukraine’s economy). Ukrainian investments in Hungary amount to USD 12.2 million. I hope that these figures will increase.

Can bilateral trade expand?

We are witnessing positive trends in the economy of Ukraine this year. We expect 1-1.5% GDP growth; the forecast for next year is 3% growth. This creates positive background for our bilateral relations as well.
As for the business environment, I would like to highlight positive practical steps such as reducing by 40% the number of documents needed to open a company in Ukraine. A compulsory registration of foreign investments has been cancelled; registration of medicines has been simplified. Some drugs that are produced and licensed in the EU, so including Hungary, and in the United States do not require any registration at all.
Over 2000 startups are registered in Ukraine and they show rapid growth – up to 100% per year. Last year’s investments reached USD 132 million, almost half of which was provided by foreigners.
Agro-industrial complex is one of the main sources of foreign exchange earnings to the country. We are actively discussing with our Hungarian partners how to intensify co-operation in this area.
We are pleased with the increasing presence of Hungarian business in Ukraine. The largest Hungarian investors are JSC Bank OTP, pharmaceutical plant Gedeon Richter, chemical plant Pannonplast, agricultural enterprise Babolna, packaging enterprise Dunapack-Ukraine, agricultural production and trade company Szabolcs Gabona, and construction companies KESZ Ltd and “3 betony”, etc. They are constantly working on the Ukrainian market. A positive example is “3 betony”, which since 2002 has been producing concrete structures in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
An example of Ukrainian presence in the Hungarian market is the Ukrainian construction company Geos, whose Budapest project LCD ERKEL Residences has recently won in the category “Residential buildings” at the European Property Awards competition, which identifies leaders in the construction industry in Europe.
On October 28 we conducted a Ukrainian-Hungarian business forum in Kharkiv, and on November 25 we plan to organise a business forum in Debrecen.
I expect that the presence of Ukrainian business in Hungary will also grow thanks to our business forums.

What meetings are there?

In September the presidents of Ukraine and Hungary, Petro Poroshenko and János Áder, met twice, in New York and during Mr.Áder’s visit to Ukraine to honour the victims of Babij Jar [a Second World War massacre of Jews]. On September 7 the two Prime Ministers, Volodymyr Groysman and Viktor Orbán, met at the Economic Forum in Poland, and we are organising a visit by Mr Groysman to Hungary this month. On October 20 President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Orbán met in Maastricht in the margins of the European People’s Party summit. On October 28 Minister Peter Szijjárto visited Ukraine. We also expect Hungarian Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas to visit Ukraine soon. The visits are to stimulate both political and trade-economic relations.

How in particular is your embassy promoting Ukraine in Hungary?

Strengthening the positive image of Ukraine, bringing the truth about Russian aggression, and about the economic potential of our country and its rich culture is our immediate task. Bilateral visits and forums, as well as the embassy’s regular contact with the Hungarian government, business, NGOs, the media, students, participation in public events should promote this. As for the promotion of Ukrainian culture I would highlight the active role of the Ukrainian minority in Hungary. With its assistance a concert of Ukrainian quartet LeonVoci was held in Tihány in July and a concert of Ukrainian folk choir Darnychanka in Budapest in September. Also in September an evening of Ukrainian culture in Budapest included a theatre performance of Kryvyi Rih. Ukrainian Film Week was held in Budapest in Uránia film theatre this month.

How much do Hungarians really know about Ukraine?

ukraine-ambassador-2Hungarians know pretty much about our country. During my stay here since June, I haven’t yet met people indifferent to what is happening in Ukraine. Ukrainians in their nature are very similar to Hungarians. Sometimes we simply do not know this because we have different languages. Both nations have desire for freedom, the ability to fight for it. Both nations have decent cultural and historical heritage, and respect it. Just as both nations also expect respect for themselves and for their right to decide their own destiny. Ukrainians and Hungarians are sincere, open and proud people.

What do Hungarian visitors like to do there?

Hungarians like other EU citizens for quite a long time do not need visas for Ukraine. My country offers many interesting places: the Carpathians and the Black Sea, Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa and many other tourist attractions. Ukrainian cuisine will not leave anyone indifferent. Exhibitions, theatres will satisfy every taste. And Ukrainians like to show their hospitality to guests.

How does Hungary rate as a posting for Ukraine’s ambassadors?

Hungary belongs to key countries as our neighbour, a member of the EU and NATO. However, apart from the professional aspect, your country is also fascinating for its beauty and culture. So the answer is: this posting is important attractive and desirable.

What is your biggest headache?

Since the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine I have developed a habit to constantly check the news. I am very much looking forward to the moment when the aggression will be over and the news about the death of my compatriots will not be broadcast anymore.
My main headache is the worry that information about those killed in eastern Ukraine is not perceived as routine and that the illegal temporary occupation of Crimea is not taken for granted. It is also important that our partners know that, despite the aggression, Ukraine carries out difficult reforms and is successful on this path, while remaining a reliable and attractive trade partner.
I consider my most important task is to maximise the opportunities for co-operation between Ukraine and Hungary, to return Moscow to the mainstream of international law. Support of Ukraine’s reform efforts, the usage of potential of our trade and economic relations are also important tasks. Today we have a good potential for such co-operation and we must make the most of it.

How are your Hungarian language skills?

I learned Hungarian when I studied at the university in Kyiv. Frankly speaking, it was not easy. I even compare it with the Rubik’s Cube – it is extremely hard until you understand how it works, and when you finally unveil the secret you realise how logical and harmonious it is. The language helps to understand the soul of the people, and through knowledge of the language you can express your respect for the people speaking it. 


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