The President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine Andy Hunder shares his vision about Ukraine with the readers of Destinations.
Andy Hunder: Today we are focused on three goals: the first one - to be the voice of business, creating conditions for its development; the second one - to be a platform for business communication among our members and provision of business information, such as reports, on the impending changes in legislation. And the last one, but not the least, is promotion of Ukraine as an attractive country for investment.
Do you see any changes in terms of attitude to Ukraine in the world within the last year? If so, what are the changes?
Andy Hunder: Absolutely, yes. Recently I was in Davos – the world Economic Forum – and it was a place where many top influential business leaders, politicians and other sort of celebrities have been. And we were focused on Ukraine. It was very interesting to see the difference of perceptions of this country. I think another year has been very, very different and Ukraine is changing. We see that very tangible changes are taking place. There is a clash now between the old and the new. This is a big clash of the old sort of archaic Soviet system values based on corruption, up against this new wave of young Ukrainians, post Maidan generation, which genially wants to change the country. And they are doing great things fighting this old system to change the situation. I think that this has been recognized by the world. It is understandable now that Ukraine is moving from its Soviet past into European future. And it is a difficult transition. A lot of reforms need to take place but definitely we can see that this is happening. There we have a group of Ukrainian members of Parliament and these are young people, really genuine, who came out of civil society and they really want to change the country. So, there is definitely sense of optimism that Ukraine is changing and it’s being led by very wonderful Ukrainian people who participate in this process.
Do the foreign media reflect the real picture of what is happening in Ukraine today? And what is the reliable source of information abroad about the situation here?
Andy Hunder: I think Ukraine does have a bit of an image problem. The perception is distorted by the images, like tanks on the streets and fighting Parliament. Negative things are very, very quickly picked up. The problem is delivering the good news. And Ukraine has a lot of good news to deliver. So far it has not been able to find a way to share good news in a tangible way. I think it’s very important to find it now. And we are trying to get out the message that Ukraine is changing. We have 600 members of our organization. They are the biggest investors that are here. Some are doing well, and some, you know, continue to expand. I think economically 2014, 2015 have been challenging years, but we are looking to see real signs of start of macro stabilization, move from macro stabilization to growth. So we will have first year of growth, possibly the best growth in five years. It’s going to be relatively small, just over one percent, but still this will be a good sign meaning we have moved out of this negative drop and are moving into something positive. So, we are looking to the future very positive. And I think now it is about communicating, getting good messages out. There are a lot of talented people out there that can speak good English. Get them out, let them meet the media and let them tell the new story on what the new Ukraine is all about.
How do you personally describe Ukraine to your foreign friends and colleagues?
Andy Hunder: A lot of people ask me: “How is it?” I personally think it’s a very big country in Europe that has a great history and it is still going through enormous change, the country that is in a process of making history. The events of 2014, 2015, 2016 will go into the history of Ukraine. And we are taking part in this historic change. I think it’s very important to understand that. One of the books that I’m reading now is new English language book called “The Gates to Europe”. It is about history of Ukraine and it shows thousand years. And you know, some eras, like, the Yushchenko era or the Kuchma era, have got like maybe a paragraph. But now this is really an opportunity to put in the next edition of that history book which will be written next week, next year or in a hundred or thousand years what happens in Ukraine in 2016. And it will be like “wow, there was a lot of change going on!” And I am optimistic about that since Ukraine is moving from its sort of post Soviet legacy under the influence of Russia to a truly independent state, becoming part of Europe based on European values, values of human dignity, values of freedom of speech and rule of law. So I think that this titanic shift is very important in terms of how it will be perceived. The message is that history is being made in Ukraine today.
What are the achievements of Ukraine since 2013 that the country can be proud of? And what are the main things we need to change?
Andy Hunder: I think the major achievement is this new society. And I remember in 2013 and beginning 2014 people were saying: “Everything is not going to work because of old, Yanukovich regime, nothing is going to change”. But the people stood up and this young generation said: “No, you know, we want to live in a country for our children, for our grand-children based on a different sort of sets of values.” So, I think the big achievement has been this whole shift in society. And the fact that society now is buying warm clothes for the army, the society that is looking after many sorts of projects, the society that is changing, looking after the same people, the whole volunteering is fascinating! I don’t know other countries in the world where it was hard to get to the stage, when people saw the army and the army was in a devastating state and the people stood up giving the resources, like financial resources and resources of time and their skills in order to try to reach changes in their country. And I think the people came together and this is a new Ukraine, where the people really stood up and they came together and showed to world that you can change a whole country.
I think the process is still ongoing. There is still a lot to be done. Some people do not want to change. They want to live in the old sort of system based on corruption. The biggest issues we still see are corruption and short-termism. So, when people are only saying: “Ok, now the corruption is an easy way for somebody who comes in power to make quick buck” it’s not only about that. It’s about looking towards the future. You know, it’s time now for standing up and fighting with corruption. And I think that what needs to be done now, the number one issue that we and our members see is definitely the fight against corruption. In 2016 we hope to see that the Government will be showing very tangible results in this. There are 3 things that need to happen: 1- to prevent corruption by increasing salaries, by not giving the temptation by having lots of electronic administration, through tax, etc. The computer can’t take bribes, and it’s a sort of avoiding human factor. 2 - to publicize all the processes. It’s the work for the journalists and civil society for naming and shaming these corrupt individuals and writing about them in the press. There are a lot of good journalists in Ukraine who do this already now. 3 – to punish corrupt individuals. We want to see and we need to see these people going to jail, because otherwise some individuals may consider “why should I stop”. I think that is very important.
Are there fundamental differences between the Ukrainian businessmen and the Western / European ones?
Andy Hunder: I think there is big difference in what happened over the last 25 years. The old school of businessmen that came out of the Soviet Union, the directors of the big plants, some of those haven’t changed. It is very difficult for them to change their mindsets because they had sort of the Soviet mentality and they were used to a sort of state economy and they were expecting everything to work that way. But those that have understood new approach, they changed. We see today big international companies that are run by Ukrainians here. And Ukrainians are not only running operations in this country but they are also running operations across other countries. So, I think, what in Ukraine has changed, is definitely the sense of entrepreneurship. Ukrainians have launched many companies and they became very successful. We can give a list of these companies. There are real global players. And I think sometimes it’s about having the right environment. Some Ukrainian companies are being launched by young entrepreneurs here and then they are becoming visible on a global stage. And I think the process will continue. I mean, Ukrainians are very well educated workforce and the education is of a very high standard. This in particular relates to IT sphere. So, I think in some areas there are certain things that actually Ukrainians can do better than European or American counterparts.
Which Ukrainian cities impress you much and why?
Andy Hunder: I lived in Rome for 10 years, I was born in London, and I lived in Kyiv for some time. Usually I have fantastic view from my office. We have one of the best views of Kyiv so I look at this wonderful city every day except today because it’s foggy. I think Kyiv is extremely interesting historically. It’s a fascinating city. Its history goes back more than a thousand years ago. Kyiv is a cradle of not Ukraine only, but of Slavic countries across. It is a mother-city. And this cradle could be compared to the New Jerusalem which is very important historically as well as the role it plays over the centuries. And I think today Kyiv showed it on a global scale. It showed it in 2004 during revolution, which was like the first part, and in 2013 and 2014 again. And I think Kyiv has got amazing people, it’s gone through a lot of difficulties over the history but now it really put together a lot of good people. Traditionally Lviv is doing a very good job in terms of tourism. Many business people I speak with and whom I ask “Guys, where will you go for Christmas?” reply “I go to Lviv”. As a tourist destination it is really becoming something very good.
Please tell us about your way of living in Kyiv: your leisure time, restaurants that you prefer, sites and places of the city that you like?
Andy Hunder: I’ve been back to Kyiv since April 2015. So it’s my second visit. I lived here for 12 years before. I worked for a company called UMC which is now Vodafone Ukraine and I worked for GlaxoSmithKline, and last 7 years I was back in London and now I’ve come here again. I think in terms of Kyiv there is a lot to do. The first months I have been very much focused on the work. Now I’m focused much more on other things also, like travelling around. I travelled to Vinnitsia, Kharkiv, Odessa. It’s seeing lots of things and it’s really understanding what our members do. In September we went to the fields to see the corn harvest, for example. We also visited Carlsberg Beer Factory here, and it really gives the understanding of how the economy is living. We hope to see things picking up.
In terms of restaurants there are such places like Kanapa which serves Ukrainian food but of a very high standard. It is a fusion Ukrainian food which is the way of presentation. But you know even the canteen that we have here in the office center is nice. Every day they serve borsch, red or green, which is also very good.
Is Kyiv safe for a foreigner? A lot of foreigners are scared to come here because of the situation in the country.
Andy Hunder: I think it’s again about bad perceptions. You know, the perception is distorted; people think that there are sort of tanks on the streets… I compare Kyiv to other cities like London or others. Is London safe? I think, you know, it is as safe as any other capital city in the world.
What would you advise foreigners who want to come to Ukraine for the first time?
Andy Hunder: It is definitely a place to see. It is now a place where history is being made. You can come in winter, when there is lots of snow. Right next to our office we have this ski slope and every day I pass by and think: “in the center of Kyiv there are people skiing.” And then in summer in the center of Kyiv there are people in the river, swimming. I don’t know any other capital city in the world, or very few, like this. That is Kyiv. And I’m not even talking about the mountains or the sea. So I mean there is just so much to do. I think it goes back to these perceptions about Ukraine, some of the stereotypes that aren’t always the right ones. Kyiv now is a very affordable city comparing to other European cities. So you can come here, you can do skiing in the center of city in winter or you can swim in the river in summer, plus there is a historical value, understanding the history of this city and this country on a global scale over the centuries.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak