Mr. Ambassador, what was your first impression about Ukraine when you started working here? What is it now? Are there any differences?
When I came here I did not know much about Ukraine. I had a long experience in the Far East (Hong Kong, Tokyo) and then in the Middle East (in Tel Aviv and then in Jerusalem). One of my first experiences related to Ukraine was to look at it through the Israeli prism. A lot of Jewish people did their Aliyah (immigration) arriving to Israel from Odessa. So I was very interested about that.
The second element is that my wife is from Moldova (we met in Israel); and, of course, I looked very carefully though her eyes at the experience of the independence of Moldova and the other ex-Soviet countries (Ukraine included) and their approach towards the EU, their path towards the integration into Europe, especially coming from the young generations.
Another point of contact was for me the extraordinary Ukrainian community living in Italy, which is mostly welcomed. They are people who work and study very seriously, they are very integrated in our social fabric and they are located both in the north and the south of Italy across the country, by the way. There are brilliant representatives of the Ukrainian community like Andrey Shevchenko, for example.
One more experience was to get to know the associations which host the children of Chernobyl. 800-1000 000 children in the last 30 years spent their school holidays in Italy, especially in the summer. All of this has brought a lot of sympathy for Ukraine. That is why here in Ukraine there are so many people who speak very good Italian and are ready to let you know this country better. You can hear Italian language on the streets and you also must be careful about what you say when you speak Italian (smiling).
Of course, when I arrived and started to work I discovered that Ukraine is a much more complex system than I expected. Yes, there are many problems; you know them better than I do. And of course, you are trying to solve them. There is a very important effort in this direction by Ukrainian institutions, society and parliament, and the international community is trying to support you as much as possible within the EU and G7. (One of my tasks was to represent the G7 group of Ambassadors for the support of reforms, while Italy had the chairmanship in 2017).
Another thing that I have found is that there is a huge potential in this country. The Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said the following a few weeks ago at the Kyiv International Economic Forum: «Ukraine has a very big potential in terms of talent, space and resources». And I agree with him. The message that we (the Embassy) send to potential investors is that they should come and see with their own eyes and work here in Ukraine especially in fields like energy, infrastructure and agribusiness. In these sectors there is an enormous amount of possibilities and there are enormous opportunities for collaboration. In the energy sector there are Italian companies which are very much interested in the gas transmission and transportation system, in renewable energy, in the gas upstream industry. In agriculture we can bring a lot of added value in your production, logistics and so on. There are many Italian companies that work in the field of reconstructions of roads, airports, railways and infrastructure.
What is the main barrier for investments in Ukraine?
We need to improve the business environment. It means the rule of law. We would like our investors to feel more confident that their investments are protected. This is very important and this is a key element for the economic success and the growth of the country. Ukrainian economy needs foreign investments to reach its full potential for growth.
What are the features that unite our nations and what is totally different?
One of the aspects that attract me the most is the strong individualism which is a characteristic of both countries. On one hand it is an element of enrichment. It helps to contribute to ideas, to creativity, to inventions. On the other hand it can be also an element of weakness because the more you are individualistic the more difficult it is to take decisions and cooperate together. But it’s true that in both countries there is a very strong element of creativity, artistic spirit, people are outgoing, open, emotional. That is why you play good football ☺ Of course, this is very positive and these are characteristics which make Italians and Ukrainians to get very much along together and to understand each other.
I don’t see any broad difference between our nations. We are both emotional and sensitive to nature, friendship, family life. That is why there are Ukrainian communities all over Italy and in southern Europe (Spain, Portugal and Greece).
The love to art and music, singing also unites us. We do a lot of activities here in terms of music and art exhibition with many Ukrainian musical institutions (Opera theatre, Philharmonic theatre) and museums in many cities of Ukraine.
Is there something difficult in diplomacy work in Ukraine for you?
The most difficult thing is that you are especially busy because you have many things going on at the different levels. This is a very big country. There is a lot of drive in the economic sector, we do a lot of things in the cultural sector as well. A lot of events are going on at the multi-lateral level of the EU, G7, OSCE. After chairing G7 in 2017, I was also the president of OSCE in 2018, so I did a double presidency. This means a lot of trips to the east of the country (Mariupil, Kramatorsk). One of our efforts was to give relief to the population that lives across the contact line. We increased the level of contribution in humanitarian assistance. And I try to work also in the health sector in order to finalize some projects, for example, in the pediatric oncology field in order to bring here Italian experts and equipment. I guess we will finalize such work this year.
Do you travel in Ukraine for leisure? What are your favorite destinations?
I travel a lot. I go to Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, especially. I like all of them. Sometimes I go to Odesa searching for the sea and the good weather. We organize so many initiatives all around the country, especially in the musical field but also we have a week full of events about Italian cuisine. This year we were in Kharkiv with a concert dedicated to music and food in the National Opera Theatre and in Odesa we organized an “aperitivo all’italiana” reception in one of the bar in the center of the city. We offered 5 different types of Italian aperitifs like Negroni, Aperol Spritz and so on. And, of course, we continue to have many events in Kyiv.
What do you usually say to Italians when they ask you about Ukrainians?
That it is worth coming and seeing the country with their own eyes; we are very close to each other. There are very good flight connections – Alitalia, International Ukrainian airlines, Ernest, which is a new Italian low-cost company which flies to many destinations across the two countries.
Ukrainians are very hard-working and talented people, you can find a lot of professionals on every level here. There are a lot of excellences that we need to discover more and which could stimulate the growth of the relationships between our two countries. For example we’ve found out that in Kharkiv there is the most important radio astronomy observatory in Eastern Europe and so we are linking Italian and Ukrainian astronomers. We organized 2 conferences (in Naples and in Kharkiv) and now we are organizing the 3d one. And there are a lot of these excellences in all spheres with which we can work together.
What places would you recommend to see any foreigner when he/she is in Rome, your home city, and what are your favorite places in Kyiv?
All over Italy I recommend just to stroll in the cities to breathe the atmosphere, to find out the jewels, hidden from tourists. Go to a very good restaurant, taste a good glass of wine. Visit small places, not only big cities.
There are some nice museums in Rome, one near the residence of our President of the Republic – Scuderie del Quirinale, which hosts fantastic exhibition, another is the Maxxi, a wonderful contemporary art museum in Rome and many others.
In Kyiv I like the landscapes along the Dnipro from both sides of the River, there are parks – like Mariinsky. I live close to Botanic Garden and I take the advantage of this area. Also the Embassy area is beautiful and Sofiyska square as well, and I love Podil, a very special area, with a booming night life especially in the summer.
Italians are famous around the world with their delicious cuisine. How do you like Ukrainian traditional dishes?
I like them very much. There is one restaurant along the Dnipro where I go regularly. I like many Ukrainian dishes and appetizers nicely set at the beginning of the meal. I like salo, cold meat, varenyky also the sweet ones with cherries. I like also borscht. You have very good wines as well, I like the most the reds, and some vodkas are also very nice as well as Lviv brands of beer.
What would you wish in a New Year 2019 to all Ukrainians?
I would like to wish Ukrainians to continue the path of growth and reforms, improving your living conditions, continue to come closer to Europe. Of course, Europe is not a panacea to solve all problems at once; it requires patience and sacrifice sometimes. Reforms are very long-term process and they need long-term efforts even perceived as not very pleasant ones in the immediate. But of course, my wish and my suggestion are to continue along this path. The improvements are already seeable – like the Association Agreement for example which gives you the possibility to trade with Europe in a better way and in a bigger dimension. The share of European trade with Ukraine is now 42%. Another improvement is the liberalization of visa free short trips to Europe for Ukrainians citizen. These developments are very positive and my wish is that this country will continue to move on in this direction.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos by Yury Zaluzhnyi