Despite the distance between Ukraine and Australia, the dialogue between the countries has never ceased. January 10, 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Australia. “Australia is one of the most distant countries of the world. However, we share the same values – democracy, freedom of choice, rule of law, so we speak the same language,” said Mykola Kulinich, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Australia at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center within the common project of UCMC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine “Diplomacy without borders”.
Bilateral relations and geopolitics
In the current geopolitical situation Australia took Ukraine’s side. According to Mykola Kulinich, the tragedy of МН17 sharply raised awareness of the Australian public about events in Ukraine and led to a better understanding of what actually is going on. The visit of Petro Poroshenko to Australia in December 2014 became a turning point to a more active dialogue. Australia was one of co-authors of the UN resolution about human rights situation in Crimea and helped to negotiate this issue with the countries of the Pacific regions where Ukraine has no diplomatic offices. Mykola Kulinich noted that Australia imposed sanctions against Russia up to 2018.
Next year the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to come to Ukraine with an official visit, while Ukrainian parliamentary delegation will possibly visit Australia.
Several days ago Ukraine and Australia signed an agreement on the supply of uranium fuel for Ukrainian power plants. “Australia can cover up to 30 per cent of required amount of nuclear fuel for Ukrainian power plants. […] This is a win-win project, as formerly [before sanctions] this uranium was purchased by Russia,” Kulinich noted.
The most perspective areas are ІТ and aerospace industry. Recently a joint Ukrainian-Australian IT company started its work in Sydney. It will cover the market of Australia and of the neighboring countries. According to the Ambassador, the demand on company’s products is very high. “Just one month and a half has passed between the day of company registration and the first sales,” he noted.
The countries negotiate an opportunity for Ukraine to test its rocket engines on the territory of currently decommissioned launch area in Woomera Test Range, and, possibly, of common projects in the future. Further talks will take place within World Aerospace Congress. Australia also plans to purchase Ukrainian planes An (“Antonov”) to carry out supplies for Australian research stations in Antarctica. Mykola Kulinich noted that up to 15 thousand people gathered to witness “Mriya”, the largest cargo plane, touching down for the first time in Australia in May 2016.
Education and culture
The first group of Australian students from Ukrainian Studies Foundation has recently arrived to Ukraine for internship in Ukrainian Catholic University. In addition, the Foundation negotiates with Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University to launch a similar project. Mykola Kulinich noted that for Ukrainian students it would be a good idea to study in Australia, as the education quality is high, but it is cheaper than in the UK and the US. Moreover, Australia is interested to attract students from abroad. According to him, there were proposals to send a recruiting group to Ukraine to tell the students about advantages and perspectives of studying in Australia.
The brightest cultural event related to Ukraine was the first visit of Ukrainian band “Okean Elzy” to Australia. They performed in Melbourne and Sydney.
Ukraine in Australian media
Information about Ukraine, taking into account the distance between the countries, appears rather often and it is objective. There are also quality newspapers in Ukrainian and a group of Ukrainian radio stations. Ukrainian Embassy has its own page on Ukrainian Radio Brisbane. However, “Russia Today” is also easily available and is often used as a source of information about the events in post-Soviet countries. In addition, Russian Embassy organized active cooperation with Russian-speaking diaspora from former Soviet countries, recently they created “Sootechestvenniki” Union (“Compatriots”). “I cannot say that their influence strengthened, but they do use a comprehensive approach”, the Kulinich noted.
Ukrainian diaspora in Australia
Ukrainian diaspora in Australia is the third largest and one of the most active Ukrainian communities in the world. Australian Ukrainians organize cultural and educational activities and cooperate with the Embassy. Due to their efforts Australia condemned Holodomor as an act of genocide in 1986, even before the breakdown of the Soviet Union, and the general public is aware of this tragedy.
Over the last year Ukrainian diaspora delivered to Ukraine humanitarian aid of a total value of nearly USD 200 thousand. Very significant amounts were donated for NGO “Patriot Defense”. In addition, an anti-suicide NGO “Lifeline”, headed by a Ukrainian Peter Shmigel, negotiates with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine to launch a psychological rehabilitation program for Ukrainian veterans of war in the east.