World in Ukraine: India

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Feb. 25, 2010, 11:38 p.m. | Ukraine — by Nataliya Bugayova

Performers from the classical Indian dance school Nakshatra put on a show for Kyiv city officials during the Holi festival in 2008.
© (Courtesy)

Editor’s Note: The Kyiv Post launches a new series called “World in Ukraine,” which puts the spotlight on international communities and their members who are living in Ukraine. The stories will include overviews of bilateral trade, educational and cultural ties with the featured nation. The series kicks off with India, which on March 1 celebrates the Holi festival of colors. The next spotlight, in the March 5 edition, is on Ukraine-Japan ties, timed for the March 3 Japanese Dolls Festival holiday. There are more than one billion Indians in the world, but perhaps only as few as 3,500 of them in Ukraine. Most of the Indians here are students, majoring predominantly in medicine, computer technologies and sciences.

Despite the community’s small size, they’ve had a large imprint on commercial and cultural life in the nation. Even in crisis-struck 2009, India-Ukraine bilateral trade reached $1.5 billion.

The Indian expatriates are far from home. Perhaps the distance brings them closer, as they remain loyal to their traditions and passionate about their celebrations.

From hard-core business owners to transitory representatives of Indian investors, from students to promoters of Indian culture, on March 1 the Indian community will celebrate. They will decorate each other with colorful powder, eat sweets and meet friends they haven’t seen for ages. The occasion is one of the most colorful holidays in the world — the Holi festival of colors, commemorating the beginning of spring and the victory of good over evil.

What brings Indians to Ukraine and where are India-Ukraine ties, close during Soviet times, headed now?

Students to business

Many college students from India in Soviet times and in the independent 1990s stayed behind and started businesses after graduation.

“Before Western investors entered the Ukrainian market, Indian businessmen were already here. These were the former students of Ukrainian universities, who learned the market, had local contacts, knew the language and benefited from two waves of privatization,” said Sanjay Rajhans, a professor of Hindi language at Kyiv National Shevchenko University.

India is the largest exporter of pharmaceuticals to Ukraine. And Tata Motors, India’s vehicle giant, has better than a 50 percent share of the bus market. Products worth $422 million – mainly pharmaceuticals, chemicals, ores, tobacco products, tea, spices, silk; machines and engines – were imported to Ukraine from India last year.

Arnab Roychuramony, an Indian businessman in Kyiv, never gave up on Ukraine after graduation from National Aviation University in 1988. Roychuramony has traded Indian medicines, imported ceramics from China and printed medical literature. “It has always been a great place for me to do business,” Roychuramony said. “However, bureaucracy and red tape are still here. I had my goods held at customs for months.” The stifling nature of bureaucracy is a recurring theme – and source of discontent.

Vishal Chandra, head of Tulib Lab Private Ltd pharmaceutical company in Ukraine, who had worked here for five years, managed to get a year-long multi-entry business visa. His spouse, also legally employed in Ukraine and two children, attending school in Kyiv, were not as fortunate.

“My family got only a six-month single entry visa, even though they had obtained year-long multi-entry visas before. Rules are constantly changing. There is no clarity, neither in the foreign registration office (OVIR), nor in embassy procedures,” Chandra added.

Ukraine is a transit point for many Asian illegal immigrants trying to get to Europe and elsewhere. That's part of the reason why visa policies for Indian nationals in Ukraine are rather strict, said Ihor Gemenny of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Like many foreigners in Ukraine, Indians have to be wary of street crimes, racism and police indifference – or worse. “I spent the whole day in the police department, trying to figure out the reason I was brought there,” said Retesh Mathur, area customer support manager of Tata Motors in Ukraine. “Finally, my friends released me, not without the help of money.”

His boss, Vikrant Singh, the area manager for Tata Ukraine, spent a day in court and paid a Hr 65 fine for having something amiss with his immigration card. Despite all the difficulties, however, Singh said that doing business in Ukraine is still great.

“We have very reliable partners in Ukraine, UkrAuto,” Singh said referring to one of the leading Ukrainian automobile production, assembly and retail company. “Ukraine is one of the most profitable markets for Tata, even more than Russia. In 2008, before the crisis, we reached some $17 million turnover.”

Cultural promoters

Not only trade attracts Indians to Ukraine. The presidential election of 2004 brought a broadcast journalist from Delhi, Sanjay Rajhans, who stayed behind. He is also a big promoter of Indian culture, teaching Hindi language at National Kyiv Shevchenko University, one of five institutions offering such courses. Rajhans has also been organizing Indian cultural events in Ukraine for the last five years.

Rajhans’ Ukrainian wife, Anna Smirnova, has dedicated the last decade to Indian classical dance. After six years of dance studies in India, Smirnova started the dance school Nakshatra in Kyiv and later in other Ukrainian cities. It is the only Indian classical school in Ukraine accredited by the Ministry of Culture of India.

“In Ukraine, people associate Indian dance with Bollywood-type dancing. The real Indian classical dance is very complicated and requires a lot of understanding. That’s why it’s barely represented in Ukraine,” Smirnova said.

Rajhans is planning, with the help of the Indian business community, to open the first Indian cultural center in August and to call it Baratiya Vidya Bhawan, or India House of Wisdom. It will be dedicated to Indian philosophy, dance, yoga, art, sanskrit, etc.

“The understanding of India among Ukrainian was more acute during Soviet times due to tight bilateral cooperation,” said Kasturi Saraiya, wife of prominent Indian businessman Rajesh Saraiya. “Such a cultural center is a necessity at this point.”

The real Holi spirit

“The real Holi in Ukraine is celebrated in student dorms,” said Vikrant Singh from Tata Motors, regarding the March 1 holiday.

“Tons of water, colored powder and lots of fun, that’s how we’ll spend this first of March,” said Harmeet Singh, a fourth-year student at Luhansk Medical University. He chose Ukraine for the affordable price of a university education and to be among a large Indian student community. He said a degree from his university will give him good career opportunities in India.

Singh, like many Indians, is vulnerable. He left the safety of a crowded dormitory for a separate apartment, a decision he regrets. “All my belongings, except my passport, were stolen,” Singh said. “The lock was not damaged at all. Police said the thief wore gloves and they cannot do anything.”

Future ties

Ukraine-India relations appear to be going in the right direction, although some hope for deeper ties more quickly.

Last year, military-technical cooperation took a major step forward with a $400 million contract for the repair of 105 Indian aircraft and a $109 million contract for supllying of engines by Ukraine to India. Ukraine-Indian bonds are also very strong in the space sector, information technology and biotechnology, with many connections formed in Soviet times.

“This year, Ukraine-India bilateral trade reached a recover for Ukraine of more than $500 million,” said Gemennyi of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

New Indian investors are also appearing on the horizon.

“The main reason we are entering the market is the presence of strong partner in Ukraine, Steel Mont Trading Ltd. The main vector of our activity here will be buying steel, ores and fertilizers in Ukraine, and selling them abroad,” said Ajay Kharbanda, managing director of Greentex mining industries, with headquarters in India and offices in Asia and the Americas.

Unfortunately, India-Ukraine relations at the highest level have been inert for the last five years. Indian President Abdul Kalam visited Ukraine in 2005.


Besides Holi Day on March 1, the Indian community includes active cricket players and fans who stage an annual tournament in spring, organized by Thamaranai Pandian, head of Unique pharmaceutical laboratories in Ukraine. Other popular gathering spots for Indians and Ukrainians are the four major Indian restaurants in Kyiv: Sutra, Bombay Palace, Gimalai and Shastra.

India At A Glance

Population: 1.2 billion people.

History: Independence from United Kingdom declared on Aug. 15, 1947.

Per capita gross domestic product (Purchasing Power Parity): $2,930.

Official languages: Hindi, English.

Major historical figure: Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948). He was the leading political and spiritual leader of India’s national independence movement and is honored as the father of the nation. He pioneered mass, peaceful civil disobedience to tyranny and inspired similar movements for justice worldwide.

Useful links:

Indian Embassy in Ukraine: Ambassador Debabrata Saha.

Holi Festival on March 1:

Kyiv Post staff writer Nataliya Bugayova can be reached at
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