Ukraine crisis

“We’re planning now for the recovery”: In conversation with Ukraine’s Tourism Minister Mariana Oleskiv

Mariana Oleskiv, chairperson at the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine, tells Courtney Fingar the Ukrainian Government is already preparing for a post-war reboot of the country’s tourism industry – and that includes Crimea.

Courtney Fingar: With the war going on, how does that impact the current focus and activities of Ukraine’s tourism agency?

Mariana Oleskiv: We are doing work now on the future plan for the recovery of tourism in Ukraine. There are some state-owned properties such as sanitoriums, hotels and health resorts for which we plan to seek private investment, for example.

Because of the war we will have a big need for rehabilitation centres to treat wounded soldiers. With this comes a focus in the future on medical tourism. This can present some interesting options for investors [in this realm of healthcare].

There will be a lot of investment opportunities in Ukraine going forward – and even now. Most of the venues [for potential investment] are in the western part of the country, so although it is kind of a risky investment now there are nonetheless some [immediate] opportunities and some interesting possibilities.

In the future, we are also trying to focus on how we see Crimea after the occupation and this plan is to be made now.

So your expectation, and the planning around it, is for Crimea returning to Ukrainian sovereignty?

Yes. That is the final goal. We don’t know how or when it will happen. Of course, we think Crimea will be the last territory we will get back, but that is our plan.

There will be a lot of investment opportunities in Ukraine going forward – and even now.

How can you counteract the risk perception that Ukraine will suffer from after the war? Will this deter tourists and investors?

Now Ukraine has received a lot of interest worldwide and in general it has been positive interest, but the challenge for us is to get people to see the country as a future tourism destination too.

The country doesn’t look like a world destination in general for tourists right now, I get it, but for us it is important to maintain another image of Ukraine: that it is a well-developed country with a good infrastructure, with a lot of things to do, with huge tourism potential and rich culture and rich history; we want to tell that story now.

Then after the war is over, we plan to launch a campaign to attract people as a show of support for Ukraine: for people to come here to spend their money here, to meet Ukrainians and tell them: ‘Thank you for being brave, for fighting for democracy and stopping the evil terrorist state of Russia.’

We understand that after the liberation, a lot of places will be disrupted or destroyed.

Are you actively involved as a tourism authority in international efforts to convince international tourists to not visit Russia, and to not do business with Russia?

Yes, we did a lot of that, especially the first month of war. It was important that businesses would stop investing in Russia, and they would stop any cooperation with Russia.

We still focus on that because I understand that a lot of people, a lot of investors, they think that the war is going to be over and we can do business with Russia as usual. They are just trying to kind of not actively or visibly be there but still keep an interest.

As Ukrainians we understand that Russia, as it is, has no future. In the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians were trying to build some form of a free-market economy, and they could be successful in that, but they would need to go down the route of a federal republic like the US, where each state has its own rules – a decentralisation. It can be a democratic country like that. Unfortunately, they went back to dictatorship and are trying to reincarnate the Soviet Union.

I understand that a lot of investors think that the war is going to be over and we can do business with Russia as usual.

When you have a dictatorship, you can’t be sure of the future of your business, you can’t even be sure of your own safety in the country.

The path Russians have chosen is very wrong, it is not going to bring them any success, and unfortunately, it is not only Vladimir Putin, because we see the whole country is just a complete collapse of values. Even if Putin is removed, the system stays the same. There will be another Putin who will just do the same. It is a threat to the whole democratic world.

Keeping any cooperation with Russia is supporting this behaviour and will just make Russia stronger, [making it more likely] it will invade other countries in the region or use nuclear weapons.

Ukraine is concentrated on fighting Russia on the battlefield; the rest of the world, and each business in every industry, needs to do everything to block any possibility for this [revived Russian] empire to exist, because it would be a threat to the whole world for a long time.

Main image: Mariana Oleskiv, the tourism minister of Ukraine, says the country is now looking to welcome visitors again. Credit: the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine.