[Klitina] Good afternoon! I am Aleksandra Klitina a journalist with the Kyiv Post.
Today, we’re fortunate to have a short interview with Ihor Smelyansky, head of Ukrposhta, the national logistic and postal service of Ukraine.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you please describe the changes in the company’s activities that the war has imposed? What are the biggest challenges at the moment?
[Smelyansky] The biggest challenges are the roads and the hostilities that are taking place every day, and we have to assess what we can deliver and how. If we talk about the Eastern part of Ukraine, we have to reassess where and how we can go every day. If we’re talking about going to the western part of Ukraine then, it’s a question, especially in the Kyiv and Chernihiv Regions, as to where mine disposal experts have completed their work clearing mines. For example, there is a question of safety in Sumy, Chernihiv, and Kyiv Regions.
As to the Western part, logistics need to handle operations and feel safe. Logistics are schedule-based operations: a train leaves Kyiv at 9:00 a.m. and will be in Lviv at 6:00 p.m. Now it’s a question of when it can go, and in many situations we have to postpone departure. That are significant obstacles.
[Klitina] Ukrposhta plays a crucial social mission, physically delivering pensions to small villages in Ukraine for elderly people who are sometimes unable to get to the banks. Is Ukrposhta providing this vital service in wartime too?
[Smelyansky] As a matter of fact, in March we delivered 87% of pensions, and in April 90%, so 90% of people received their pensions. You are right that banks are not working in many areas even after the Ukrainian Armed Forces have liberated them due to the absence of Internet or mobile connections or, sometimes, absence of employees.
Ukrposhta understands its social mission. Over 3 million people got their pensions through Ukposhta this month. We do our best every single day to make sure we can deliver even in temporarily occupied territories. For example, yesterday in Kherson, we also paid out pensions in Melitopol, and other places.
Our citizens expect this support, and we at Ukrposhta do our best to prove this support to them.
[Klitina] Kherson is currently under Russian occupation. Is it really safe to deliver anything where?
[Smelyansky] The definition of the word “safe” after February 24 is relative. We work as we can. Every day as I mention, at 6 a.m., we assess whether it’s safe to deliver. For example, several of our tracks were damaged during today’s bombing of Mykolaiv, so we have to repair them. After that, we assess whether it is safe to go and start working. Over 170 branches opened in Mykolaiv today, and in Kherson the figure was 117.
We make those decisions every single day. Millions of people rely on our work both in terms of social services and businesses. From the second week of the war, we launched our flight to the US from Warsaw because we understood that thousands and thousands of small-medium enterprises depend on us to sell their goods on e-Bay and Amazon. If we stopped operating they would lose their jobs. Again, we work inside the country to provide social services, deliver parcels and do the same internationally.
[Klitina] I think your employees are heroes.
Ukrposhta is also the most prominent Ukrainian logistics company. Is the company playing a role in evacuation or the delivery of humanitarian aid?
[Smelyansky] Absolutely, we help companies evacuate from East to the West. We help deliver humanitarian goods. I have already mentioned the plane we launched to the US, this plane takes parcels to the US and brings back humanitarian aid. We carry over 300 tons of humanitarian aid from the US alone, plus we receive humanitarian assistance from our partners, Georgia, Belgium, and many countries around the globe. We also distribute it.
A lot of humanitarian aid is moved through Ukrposhta between cities and obviously between villages where our mobile offices can bring pensions and food. There is usually an essential set of food items for people, especially those under occupation, and they need our support.
So, yes, the humanitarian mission has been our key priority over the past two months. I think we will continue this for some time. Hopefully, the situation will stabilize and people will get back to normal living. Once all those regions get back to normal we will focus more on business issues.
[Klitina] The Ukrposhta postage stamp showing a Russian warship became extremely popular. There are queues of people willing to purchase this famous postage stamp. I was lucky to have it too. Is the Ukrposhta team planning to issue more stamps with illustrations form the war? Perhaps you can share your plans with us?
[Smelyansky] Sure, the next one will be a warship. It will be a series of stamps. I don’t yet know the date, but I think it will be the week of May 15. They will be ready in the middle of May. I am sure people will like it.
Ukrposhta will issue the complete set with the warship. We look forward to launching this issue and we’ll be happy to see everyone buying them. I will announce later where and how it will look.
There are people in neighboring countries who don’t like this stamp issue and are doing their best to stop us selling it, but we know how to do it and will do so anyway.
Now we are announcing a public vote on the design that people would like to see. Whether it is a stamp showing the Kremlin burning or an army dog called Patron, whether it should be “Dobriy vechir my z Ukrayiny” (Good evening, we are from Ukraine), or Chornobayivka, Heroyam Slava (Chornobayivka, Glory to Heroes) many things that people like. It doesn’t mean that we will pick one. We will decide on the priority, which one will be first.
Also, the Mriya [Dream] will be one of our stamps [Ukrainian strategic airlift cargo plane destroyed by Russian invaders at start of war] – the “Ukrainian dream” will be launched in June. Please follow our social media, and we will do our best to keep you positively surprised.
[Klitina] What lessons have you drawn personally from the experience of the last few months and Russia’s war against all of Ukraine?
[Smelyansky] If you are a manager you have to maintain your composure. You are managing people; first of all, they need to see you. That is why I travel a lot.
I need to see how work is done in different places, need to make decisions. Sometimes it’s hard to make decisions, emotionally, but you have to focus on the key priorities because millions of people depend on the choices you make.
Sometimes you have to restrain yourself. I think the main point is to keep your focus on winning this war and doing your best. Things are not black and white, but all decisions are easier as long as you focus on victory.
[Klitina] I have one more question. You are a very popular person in Ukrainian politics, and you are a technocrat. Are you planning a political career for yourself in the future?
[Smelyansky] That’s not on my agenda. As you mention, I am a technocrat; I am not a politician. I like to say things and stay, but politicians can’t. I like what I do.
Every time I see elderly people receive their pensions it makes them happier. That is a great thing! Or Kharkiv, finding itself under shelling, is selling goods on Amazon. It is a great feeling that gives me pleasure.
So, no, I would like to stay. First of all, I would like to stay in business. I want to take a break and spend some time after victory on the beach by the sea with my family. That is my plan. Political activity is definitely not on my agenda.
[Klitina] I see. I hope that after our victory we can all go to the beach and happily have a vacation. Thank you so much for this interview. Slava Ukrayini!
[Smelyansky] Heroyam slava!Thank you!