Interview with H.E. Mrs. Natalia Zadorozhniuk, the Ambassador of Ukraine in North Macedonia
Your Excellency, you are the resident ambassador of Ukraine to North Macedonia. What is that which left you with the greatest impression since your appointment here?
The intensive dynamics of the development of political events. I have been in the country since 2017. During this time there have been parliamentary elections, early parliamentary elections, local elections, presidential elections, a referendum, changes to the Constitution, NATO accession, activities to join the EU, now a preparation for the population census, holding local elections. We, diplomats, have no time to drink a cup of coffee. I’m kidding, of course, but you really have a very busy political life.
But, seriously, we are very similar. Open, sincere, hospitable, we love songs. It is said that Ukrainian Transcarpathia is the beginning of the Balkans – the sun, mountains, homemade wine, and hospitable people.
Ukraine is known around the world for its historic legacy. If you are to promote the Ukrainian culture in North Macedonia, what are the three main things you can point out for us?
It is extremely difficult to fit the rich history and culture of the Ukrainian people in 3 main things. For me – it’s Ukrainian folklore – incredible songs and dances (extremely melodic lyrical songs and frantic, energetic dances, including our hopak), the history of Kyivan Rus and its architecture (the creation of the Ukrainian Church, magnificent architectural monuments – the famous St. Sophia Cathedral, the Kyiv -Pechersk Lavra, the Vydubychi Monastery and many, many others), the world-famous Ukrainian Baroque of the XVII-XVIII centuries. This is the time of our outstanding hetman, patron Ivan Mazepa (this is also architecture – the charming St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv, St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv, the Trinity Church in Chernihiv, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, this is also church music – M. Berezovsky, D. Bortnyansky, A Vedel, this is also fine art – the world-famous Ukrainian icon painting, etc.).
North Macedonia is one of the youngest NATO members and joined the Alliance recently. Is NATO membership a possibility also for Ukraine in near future? What kind of experiences can you gather from the process of North Macedonia’s NATO membership?
Ukraine’s relations with NATO began in 1992 when Ukraine joined the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. In 1994, it joined the Partnership for Peace Programme, and three years later, in 1997, it signed the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership and established the Ukraine-NATO Commission.
Our country submitted the first official application for the possibility of Ukraine’s accession to the Membership Action Plan (MAP) only in 2008.
However, when Viktor Yanukovych came to power in Ukraine in 2010, the Interdepartmental Commission on Ukraine’s Preparation for NATO Accession and the National Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration was liquidated. Only after the events of the Revolution of Dignity, the annexation of Crimea, and the beginning of the war in Donbas did the question of Ukraine’s membership in NATO arise again.
On 12 June 2020, Ukraine received the status of NATO’s enhanced capability partner, enabling closer military-industrial cooperation.
At the NATO Summit in Brussels on the 14th of June 2021, Allies reaffirmed the decision of the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine would be a member of NATO, but reforms were needed in order to obtain a Membership Action Plan. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a briefing after the summit that Russia would have no influence on the decision for Ukraine to join the Alliance. “Each country chooses its own path. It is up to Ukraine and the 30 NATO members to decide whether it aspires to be a member of the Alliance.
Ukraine expects that at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in December 2021, Allied leaders will instruct their Foreign Ministers on further steps towards a MAP for Ukraine. In this regard, I am very grateful to the leadership of the Republic of North Macedonia for its full support for Ukraine’s intentions to become a full member of NATO.
There is also a need for a clear functioning national institutional framework for NATO membership. For example, a three-tier structure was created in Macedonia.
And last but not least, securing a political solution. Let’s be honest. I do not think that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are inferior in professionalism, training, and experience to the Armed Forces of North Macedonia. In this context, special attention should be paid to working with leading NATO countries, finding arguments, the need to convince them that they need us as much as we do. And I’m sure we have enough such arguments. This is the daily painstaking work of all branches of government. Skopje has worked extremely hard with the leading capitals of NATO countries, in particular, to secure the necessary support from the United States and Germany.
Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia created the Open Balkan alliance, also known as Little Schengen. In your opinion, what is the advantage of this alliance?
As far as I understand, Brussels seeks as economically as possible to attract the nearest enlargement group – the countries of the Western Balkans, to ensure their sustainable economic development, to implement infrastructure projects. Simply put, try to create in the region what the EU has – four freedoms of movement – goods, services, labor, and capital.
Regional, especially economic cooperation between the countries of the region is also one of the main directions of the Berlin process.
During an online conference on June 29th of this year, a joint statement by the Prime Ministers of North Macedonia, Albania, and the President of Serbia entitled “European Western Balkans” was adopted.
Separately, the leaders of North Macedonia, Albania, and Serbia called on the USA and the EU, together with them and other Western Balkan countries, to increase investment in renewable energy in the region and to involve the region in EU economic, investment, and green policies.
Namely, as far as I understand, useful real projects should be implemented, the implementation of which should be felt by ordinary citizens of the region. However, I would like this to be a stage of preparation for the EU, not its replacement.
Ukraine is carefully studying this example of interregional cooperation and the role and assistance of the European Union and the United States.
Ambassador Zadorozhniuk, what are the plans of Ukraine and the Embassy in regards to strengthening the business cooperation between our two countries. Are we going to see increased activity in this field?
We have intensified bilateral cooperation in all areas – an active political dialogue, intensive inter-parliamentary cooperation, increased trade, and economic cooperation, the implementation of interesting projects in the field of public diplomacy.
As Ambassador, I am extremely happy that the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, visited Ukraine on August 22-25 to take part in the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence and the Crimean Platform Summit. We appreciate the support of our friendly country in our struggle against Russian aggression and the non-recognition of the occupation of Crimea.
I would like to single out the very constructive cooperation of the Embassy of Ukraine in Skopje with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia and the Embassy of North Macedonia in Kyiv. We work together as one team for concrete results.
Having common foreign policy priorities – the EU and NATO, without having problematic issues, today we are together, the Ukrainian and Macedonian sides have identified the economic direction as one of the priorities. Thus, in recent years we have had a significant intensification of bilateral trade and economic cooperation, in particular the stable growth of bilateral trade indicators. For the second year in a row, North Macedonia ranked third among eight countries in the Balkans (after Bulgaria and Serbia, overtaking Croatia) in terms of mutual trade with Ukraine.
In 2020, the trade turnover between Ukraine and North Macedonia was the highest in the last 8 years (101 million). For the 7 months of 2021, we already have as much as we had for the whole of 2020 (almost 100 million US dollars).
Thanks to hard work, after a 12-year break, the process of work of the Intergovernmental Ukrainian-Macedonian Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation was unblocked (the third meeting of the Commission took place in Kyiv on June 16, 2021), a meeting was organized between the First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine –Minister of Economy of Ukraine Oleksiy Lyubchenko and the Minister of Economy of the Republic of North Macedonia Kreshnik Bekteshi (June 15, Kyiv).
The work between the leading chambers of commerce of the two countries has been intensified. The legal framework of bilateral relations has been expanded: an intergovernmental Agreement on mutual travel of citizens on a permanent basis, an Agreement between the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine and the Agency for Youth and Sports of the Republic of North Macedonia on cooperation in youth, physical culture and sports, an Agreement between the State Service of Ukraine for Food Safety and Consumer Protection of Ukraine and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of North Macedonia on cooperation in the field of quarantine and protection of plants (work on the Agreement lasted more than 10 years) were signed. The signing of this agreement, on which we worked for about 10 years, provides for the harmonization of plant quarantine and protection requirements for goods exported from Ukraine to the RNM, will help increase the range and diversify the export of Ukrainian goods.
In addition, a complex negotiation process on the liberalization of the current Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and the Republic of Macedonia has been completed. We plan to sign and ratify these changes in the near future.
Significant impetus has been given to interregional cooperation. In recent years, friendly relations have been established between six cities in Ukraine and North Macedonia.
Ambassador Zadorozhniuk, what are the plans of Ukraine and the Embassy in regards of strengthening the cultural cooperation between our two countries. Are we going to see increased activity in this field?
In the field of cultural and public diplomacy, we work positively. We strive to show the Macedonian society that Ukraine is not only fighting, defending itself, but at the same time reforming and has serious achievements in contemporary art, cinematography, literature, and sports. The exhibition of Petrykivkа paintings, organized by DMWC, the traditional evenings of Ukrainian cuisine (culinary diplomacy), the exhibition of Ukrainian craftswomen and master classes organized in the leading museum of North Macedonia – Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, the translation of Ukrainian literature into the Macedonian language, introducing our traditional holidays to the Macedonian society (Easter, Christmas, The Intercession of the Theotokos, St. Nicholas), we provide participation of our music groups in Macedonia.
At the invitation of the President of the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia Talat Xhaferi, a joint viewing of the match Ukraine-North Macedonia within EURO 2020 was held. It was an incredible atmosphere of unity, the friendship between the members of the Macedonian Parliament, the representatives of the Government, the Embassy, and the Ukrainian community in North Macedonia.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine pays significant attention to public diplomacy. And that’s great. With the help of special programs, we manage to organize a number of public events that are widely known in Macedonian society.
From 13th to 16th of August, the Cinematheque hosted a screening of world-class films by Ukrainian director Oleksandr Dovzhenko (Zvenyhora-Arsenal-Zemlya) and a lecture by Arseniy Knyazkov, a representative of the O. Dovzhenko National Center.
A festival of Ukrainian documentaries (about 11 works) and a meeting with Ukrainian directors took place in Skopje on August 19-26 together with Make Dox-Creative Documentary Film. The implementation of this project will demonstrate the achievements of the Ukrainian film industry and present the achievements of Ukrainian documentary films. An exhibition of Ukrainian artists and craftswomen living in Skopje was held.
To mark the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, we have launched an audio guide in Ukrainian at the leading museum in North Macedonia, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, which houses a large collection of paintings by Ukrainian artists and wax figures made by Ukrainian artists. It was agreed with the management of the Museum to establish cooperation with the National Museum of History in Ukraine, as well as to implement joint projects this fall.
We also plan a tour to North Macedonia of the Kyiv Academic Regional Music and Drama Theater n.a. Saksagansky.
From 15th to 21st of July, a Ukrainian delegation of experts on religion visited North Macedonia, established contacts with the relevant state institutions of North Macedonia, and agreed on joint projects in the field of religion.
A separate area of work of the Embassy is the intensification of cooperation between Ukraine and North Macedonia in the field of education and science. From 14th to 16th of May, a Ukrainian educational delegation led by Yuriy Voloshin, Dean of the Faculty of International Relations at the National Aviation University, visited Skopje. Specific joint projects have been agreed upon with the American University of Europe (FON) and MIT University.
The Embassy of Ukraine traditionally participates in events organized by the Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Center, including presentations of Ukraine and participation in humanitarian concerts. We also participate in charity events organized by NOVA International Schools.
In order to expand the Ukrainian presence in North Macedonia, we are actively working to open an Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in one of the regions of North Macedonia. We have many other plans.
In general, I think we manage to maintain the dynamics of bilateral relations in all areas – an active political dialogue, inter-parliamentary cooperation, intensification of economic cooperation, intensification of tourism, significant work in the field of public diplomacy.
We are happy that Ukraine is becoming more present in North Macedonia.
Even though Ukraine and North Macedonia are somewhat similar cultures, belonging to the same continent, we are united in the diversity of our people, social groups, habits, and traditions. In your opinion, what do you think is the most common thing for our two nations?
Maybe too frankly, but, in my opinion, there is too much tolerance in our nations, and good “should be able to defend itself”, then maybe throughout our histories we would not find ourselves in the situations in which we found ourselves. There should not be two Ukrainians and three hetmans, or two Macedonians – three voivodes, we should be more cohesive, more united within our societies. Then others will not use us and will not impose their decisions. And to be more ambitious, more courageous, more determined, to defend one’s own.
We have an example with Russia, its desire to impose its path of development on us. We learned our history lessons. We fight for our freedom, for the right to choose our own future, to choose our own path of development.
But, at the same time, we also have in common what I really like – sincerity, openness, hospitality, desire to help.
Will you recommend North Macedonia as a place to visit your Ukrainian compatriots? What would you recommend for them to see, visit and experience here?
Today, Ukrainians are beginning to discover a touristic Macedonia. In autumn 2020, Ukrainian tour operators visited North Macedonia to prepare proposals for Ukrainian tourists, on February 17th, 2021 the First Ukrainian-Macedonian Forum was held, with the participation of about 50 participants from both sides, and a Memorandum of Cooperation in Tourism was signed between the National tourist organization of Ukraine and the Agency for Development and Support of Tourism of the Republic of North Macedonia.
It was agreed on the need for further development of B2B contacts between representatives of the tourism sector of the two countries.
The introduction of the first in the history of Ukrainian-Macedonian relations direct regular flight Kyiv-Skopje of the Ukrainian company “Wind Rose” in December 2020 also provided a significant impetus in the tourism sector.
Even the numbers speak for themselves. According to official data, we have doubled the number of tourists from Ukraine compared to 2019 and 2020.
The tourism sector is very promising. In North Macedonia, there is beautiful nature, delicious food, a hospitable friendly attitude towards tourists. As for the recommendations, there is no place in my favorite country that I would not recommend visiting, I recommend everything – Skopje with the Matka Canyon, Ohrid, Mavrovo, Popova Shapka, Galichica, religious routes with visits to monasteries and mosques, wine routes. Each of them has something special, unique. A beautiful diverse country and wonderful people.
Given that we have an agreement on a visa-free regime between our countries (signed in 2019) and direct flights, I sincerely invite Ukrainians to visit friendly North Macedonia.
Ukrainian Embassy has cooperated with DMWC in many cultural and charitable activities from the very beginning. How do you see the mission and activities of “Dobredojde” Macedonia Welcome Centre, what future role can it aspire to have?
I openly admire the work done by DMWC, in particular the work that your especially tireless and creative director Ms. Emilija Miladinova Aramcheva is doing. So much desire to show foreigners all the best that is in North Macedonia, on one hand, and on the other help to acquaint citizens of North Macedonia with national traditions, history, and culture of other countries!
DMWC’s charitable work also deserves special attention – specific projects, specific assistance to the most vulnerable segments of the population, especially to children. This deserves great respect.
And I imagine how difficult it is to implement these projects, especially now, in our Covid time, a time of severe restrictions.
I would like DMWC to continue to implement these 3 areas that I consider important: the promotion of North Macedonia, the opening of the culture of other countries to the citizens of North Macedonia, and charitable activities.
The Embassy of Ukraine, for its part, is always ready to help implement this both honorable and difficult mission, as well as to implement joint projects with DMWC in the future.