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Interview of Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine
The Head of State has proclaimed 2008 the “Year of Tourism and Resorts in Ukraine.” Recently, President Viktor Yushchenko agreed to answer our questions regarding his strategic view of this sector.
Mr President, what place does tourism hold in your life and the life of your family?
For me two things have always been of vital importance — understanding my nation and knowledge of my native land. Indeed, my trips to various parts of Ukraine are not just business trips — rather, they are expeditions, a study of history. That’s why I have set myself a goal — to restore the true history of the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian statehood.
I encourage my family to look at Ukraine and the world not from the point of view of enjoying beautiful landscapes from the window of a car, but I want them to become acquainted with nature, history, culture, to socialize with people. Our native land is so diverse, it has so many voices, but often it is little known, although it is always wonderful.
In your opinion, what is tourism now, and what should it become for Ukraine?
At present, favorable conditions have begun to form in Ukraine for the further development of this sector. In the past year, 23.1 million foreigners visited Ukraine, and 17.3 million Ukrainian citizens traveled abroad.
I would like the tourism branch to finally start working for our mutual benefit, so that we could show the world all the magnificence and beauty of our native land. It seems that what’s needed for this belongs to a simple prose of life — a general tourism infrastructure and a network of services, including, for example, transport routes on the international level. I believe that the important national program, Dorohy Ukrayiny (Roads of Ukraine) will begin to bear some fruit in several regions of Ukraine as early as this year.
To truly become a country of tourism, we must constantly maintain and satisfy interest in Ukraine among people, namely, as a country of tourism — one that is interesting, safe and stable. Ukraine must not only define the “rules of the game” on the tourism market, not only create legislative-regulatory norms and control their enforcement, but also guarantee access to the use of tourism services. For us, this is very important.
By its specific nature, tourism interacts both directly and indirectly with other branches of the economy: the industrial sector, agriculture, construction, transport, insurance, communications, trade, communal services, social services, culture, the arts, sport… It stimulates their development, establishing the standards of quality for the goods and services used by tourists. In this respect, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of tourism.
Tourism is also one of the ways for our young independent nation to enter the world community.
I’m deeply convinced that the European wave of admiration for Ukraine will grow during the Euro 2012 soccer championship. We should do everything possible and impossible so that our guests see the diversity of Ukrainian culture and feel our traditional hospitality.
What measures and decisions are planned with the “Year of Tourism and Resorts in Ukraine”?
It will increase the government’s and public’s attention to the problems of this branch, which should become one of the leading branches of the economy, with its cultural, social and economic resources.
This year we must analyze and resolve a number of basic problems affecting the tourism industry. These include strengthening the popularization of tourism’s potential, developing international cooperation in tourism, increasing the amount of budget revenues spent on tourism at all levels, further developing the tourism business as a lever of social-economic growth, particularly in the regions and in Ukraine as a whole.
This year, a priority for the governing bodies will be to develop normative-legal acts and program documents directed at developing domestic tourism, especially green tourism, sport and health tourism, as well as the tourism infrastructure in general. Work is currently underway on the Strategy of the Stable Development of Tourism and Resorts in Ukraine and this Strategy must be adopted by the end of this year.
The results of the “Year of Tourism and Resorts”, the state and prospects of the branch, will be discussed at the All-Ukrainian forum, “Tourism and Resorts in Ukraine — A Strategy for Further Development”.
You mentioned the European football championship. It looks like 2012 will become another “Year of Tourism in Ukraine”. What is Ukraine doing to prepare for this event and how will it affect the tourism business?
This event is an opportunity for Ukraine to demonstrate its “Europeaness”, to demonstrate that it is in line with international standards and to make a real breakthrough into Europe.
Preparations for holding the championship cannot be postponed. The championship must be held at the highest level.
The first steps have already been taken. The Euro 2012 Coordination Council and the Organizing Committee are already at work. A national agency for the preparation and holding of the championship has been created, and its activities are coordinated by the Cabinet of Ministers. A department for the preparation and holding of Euro 2012 in Ukraine has been created within the Cabinet of Ministers’ secretariat.
We are facing many tasks. But the main thing is that Ukraine must provide the appropriate level of tourism infrastructure, especially to be able to accommodate such a large number of guests.
Almost 27 billion hryvnyas [US $5.4 billion] are planned to be invested into the construction, reconstruction and renovation of hotels and dormitories in the cities and their vicinities. Of this amount, 600 million will come from state coffers, while more than 26 billion will come from financial sources.
In addition, plans call for the restoration and repair of theaters and museums, national reserves, parks of culture and recreation in the cities where the championship games will be played and in towns and villages along the traffic routes of championship participants and tourists. Souvenir items with Ukrainian national emblems, guidebooks and maps in several languages will be produced.
I am convinced that we will hold Euro 2012 completely in line with world standards. I see the readiness of all the branches of government to work toward this goal.
Do you deal with issues regarding the development of tourism, and when receiving foreign delegations?
Ukraine is very beautiful and unique. There is much to be proud of, much to tell the world about. Naturally, one of the main tasks during meetings with leaders of other countries is to draw attention to this beauty, history and culture, as to Ukraine’s foreign policy in general.
I’m convinced that each of us must be a patriot of our Ukrainian land, because when you talk about your native land with love and admiration, such feelings are always transmitted to others.
How do you evaluate Ukraine’s tourism potential in general? What are its main riches viewed against a European or international background?
For foreigners, Ukraine is a relatively new, but little known country. At the same time, it is a country with an age-old history and rich culture. Ukraine has been at the crossroads of transcontinental routes between the North and South, West and East since ancient times. Various cultures and civilizations have always come into contact and interacted here. That the borders of the European Union have come up to the western borders of Ukraine is an important geopolitical factor today.
It is possible to get to Ukraine by any type of transportation, while inside Ukraine the network of roads is also rather well developed. Of course, I won’t deny that on some stretches our roads are far from ideal, but every year the situation improves perceptibly.
Four out of nine European transport corridors pass through the territory of Ukraine. Autotourism is among the most mobile and accessible kinds of tourism, and there are broad possibilities for its development in Ukraine (there are 5,000 kilometers of auto routes).
Ukraine has a unique combination of natural conditions, various types of landscapes and mineral-medicinal resources. All these form the basis for the development of the resort and recreation sphere. Generally, 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory is good for this. We have more than 30 reservation territories — national parks, biosphere and natural reserves. We have wonderful botanical gardens and landscape parks...
Incidentally, this is an important task for all government bodies at all the levels — to preserve all those wonderful and potential-filled parcels for the further large-scale uses of tourism.
As for the wealth of its mineral-medicinal resources, Ukraine has few rivals. There are mineral water sources and therapeutic bathing muds of all kinds. Take the famous health improvement centers: Morshyn, Svalyava, Myrhorod, Truskavets, Khmilnyk, Yevpatoriya, Kuyalnyk… Given their curative possibilities, they are on par with the best resorts in the world, but the costs of treatment here are much lower than elsewhere.
Thanks to its unique historical and cultural heritage, Ukraine can satisfy the requirements of the most demanding tourists. The Holy Sophia Cathedral in the capital and the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Monastery, and the historical center of Lviv are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Among the list’s candidates are the Kamyanets-Podilsky canyon and fortress, the ruins of the ancient city of Khersones (Chersoneses), the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray and other landmarks. Southern Ukraine, with its wealth of archeological rarities, will undoubtedly interest those who know antiquities. Here, it’s possible to become acquainted with the excavations of ancient cities on the Black Sea coast: Tir, Olvia, Pantikapeia and the above-mentioned Khersones. Tourists will also find interesting the churches of Kyivan Rus in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Ovruch, Volodymyr-Volynsky, the medieval fortresses in Lutsk, Medzhybizh, Kamyanets-Podilsky, Khotyn, Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, Uzhgorod, and Mukacheve, palace complexes in Crimea, in Lviv and Chernihiv regions, the landmarks of sacral architecture in the Carpathians… The list goes on.
Our country is completely safe. Ukrainians are very tolerant people, which is why ethnic, religious or racial misunderstandings pose absolutely no threat to tourists.
The hotel infrastructure in Ukraine has started to undergo modernization and expansion in the last few years.
With its considerable potential, without a doubt, Ukraine can offer a meaningful vacation for its own citizens and foreigners alike. Such a country is attractive for traveling and becoming acquainted with its important points of interest and landscapes that are so dear to the hearts of every Ukrainian. That’s why I feel very sorry when my fellow countrymen know the resorts of Turkey and Spain, the antiquities of Greece and Egypt better than their own native land. On the other hand, we are seeing a considerable upsurge in the interest of Ukrainians to Ukraine, and the activation of self-motivated tourism. That’s why we should offer our fellow citizens all the right conditions for taking part in organized tours.
By virtue of your presidential duties, you yourself are, so to speak, a political tourist. Not long ago, the whole world saw you at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. What did you feel being in the Holy Land? And in general, where and when did you experience the most profound emotional feelings in your life?
Fortunately, I’ve experienced several great emotional uplifts. One of these experiences was when I talked to the people on Maydan [political rallies during the Orange Revolution of 2004]...
As for my feelings at the Wailing Wall, I must say that for me, as for every ordinary person, it is very important to feel the pain of others. Only in this way do we remain human. I felt the pain of generations of Jewish people, I felt the pain of my people. I prayed for the rebirth of Ukraine and that the innocent victims of the Holodomor [Great Famine] of 1932–1933 are recognized by the world as it has recognized the victims of the Holocaust, and that the world preserve their memory.
Is there anything worth seeing where you are from? Though, probably, there is always something worth seeing where one comes from…
I have to admit that I gain energy and strength at my parents’ home in the village of Khoruzhivka in Sumy Region. We keep up house, and from time to time I bring my children and grandchildren there with pleasure. I want them to learn to feel their, and our roots. My children have already planted trees near the building, as well as the spot where the old house used to stand with its stove bench that my mother used for swaddling me and my brother. My younger children like to play near those trees very much.
It is my great wish that we all know and renew our roots. This is of particular importance for Ukrainians who lived in the 20th century through what was arguably the hardest of times among all European peoples.
Ukraine is renewing itself, and it cannot be compared to the Ukraine that existed five or 10 years ago. The contributions of tourism here cannot be overestimated. My thanks to those who are developing this sphere, and I call upon them to tend to it in the future. May there not be a year, but a century, of tourism in Ukraine!
Photos have been provided
by the President’s Press Office
President Yushchenko at the fair in the village of
Sorochyntsi in the Land of Poltavshchyna; fairs
in Sorochyntsi has been held since the 19th century.
The President’s equanimity comes in handy not only
in politics, but in rafting as well…
The Bushes and the Yushchenkos lay flowers at the
memorial to the victims of Holodomor — Great
Famine of 1932–33 during the official visit
of President Bush to Ukraine.
At the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.