Even art can play a big role in reversing Ukraine's poor image.
“Hi, are you from Canada?” “No, I am from Ukraine.” “Ah, Ukraine…”
This is what I used to hear quite often, while living in London for a year doing my master’s program at the London School of Economics.
Because of my North American accent, picked up while in high school in Tennessee, many thought I was from there. I felt a reaction of immediate confusion and slight recoil once I said I am from Ukraine.
Though London students are quite sophisticated and know where my homeland is located, most of them have a blurred perception dominated by the common stereotypes of Eastern Europe: corruption, oligarchs, mafia, peasants, poverty, etc. Knowledge about Ukraine does not seem any deeper anywhere else in Great Britain.
Recently, I attended a reception on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Ukrainian-British City Club at the House of Commons in London. An English friend who worked as an assistant to a member of parliament told me an interesting story about a conservative lawmaker who did not think highly of Ukraine. But, after joining an official parliamentary delegation to Ukraine, he returned as a convert.
He spoke about the many young and intelligent people he met in Ukraine. He enthusiastically shared these impressions with many of his colleagues in parliament. A group of converted people such as this British legislator can truly have an impact on the perception of Ukraine – and perhaps influence policy towards my homeland in Brussels, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and other capitals.
“Ukraine is one of the most perplexing destinations for London investors. On the one hand, there was enormous goodwill following the  Orange Revolution. Everyone wanted Ukraine to succeed because the huge economic potential of the country is there for all to see,” said Jon Aarons, managing director of Financial Dynamics International, a business communications firm. “But, on the other hand, the politico-business elite seem hell-bent upon self-destruction. The continuing perception of deep corruption has eroded trust among the country’s friends. Investors simply want stability, a settled and predictable environment in which to do business. Let’s hope the Jan. 17 presidential election brings an end to this madness because it is costing the Ukrainian people dearly.”
Many hope that the situation will start improving once a president is elected and a new premier is appointed.
What should the new government do? The nation needs to fix its public finances and improve its macroeconomic fundamentals. Then, the changes need to be communicated to the key international stakeholders. The political situation needs to be less opaque.
Ukraine needs to reach out to the decision-makers in the investors’ circles in key European, North American, Middle Eastern and Asian cities. Ukraine needs to use all possible means of investment promotion and investment generation available. The nation should launch commercials on international TV networks, get advertising in the leading business press, organize investment conferences and run investment missions.
However, the campaign has to be realistic and positive. It is crucial for Ukrainian political leadership to understand that, without a stable and predictable government that will curb corruption, fix public finances and improve the investment climate, any wide-scale promotion campaign is doomed to fail.
Also, Ukraine needs to learn how to use its diaspora abroad. By that I mean both the older generation diaspora and the present-day one, represented by the labor migrants in Europe which, according to unofficial statistics, accounts for more than four million people.
China is an excellent role model in this respect. Chinatowns have always been integrated into Chinese foreign policy as outposts for Chinese promotion commercially and culturally. Ukraine needs to learn how to utilize the knowledge of Ukrainians who gained education in leading universities worldwide. India’s information technology success was accomplished thanks to a large number of Indian students who, upon acquiring their Ph.Ds in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, returned to Bangalore to build an Indian Silicon Valley.
A lot has been said about Ukraine’s opportunity to achieve a watershed in its development by hosting the European soccer championship in 2012. It is probably the strongest motivation for Ukraine to upgrade its tourism infrastructure. Ukraine badly needs functioning and welcoming airports, proper and decently priced hotels, viable roads and highways, traffic signs in English, English-speaking personnel in the hospitality industry and public offices.
Ukraine needs to get its act together and start making progress in managing its reputation and attracting investment and tourists. For example, Ukraine has tremendous art potential. These activities create emotions that propel people to visit countries. They influence the decision to buy property or invest in business. Therefore, art is ideally placed to fill this void with Ukrainian social realism and contemporary paintings, visual art and sculpture, performance and dramatic art, cinematography, music, and literature.
It’s just one of the ways to reverse Ukraine’s poor image abroad.
Vasyl Myroshnychenko is a partner at CFC Consulting, a Ukraine-based public relations and public affairs consultancy. The group is affiliated with London-based Financial Dynamics International and holds the exclusive representation rights in Ukraine for CNN International. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.