Our Power Lunch table this week was graced by the company of Ihor Humennyi, Ukraine’s ambassador to Malaysia and a member of the Committee on Contributions of the United Nations. However, to make certain that we managed to squeeze in an interview into his packed schedule, we decided to get straight down and start our interview over coffee, before lunch was even ready to be served.
Busy schedule: Ihor takes time off to have lunch with Marina.
Taking a Glance
We wanted to know it all, leisure, business and what exactly it entails to be an ambassador.
What is a normal day like?
Humennyi, was casual as he talked of a schedule that would leave most of us haggard, but which he is well adapted to: “Actually, it is not easy to find spare time. I come in early in the morning and read all the communications, letters and everything that comes into the embassy.
“Usually I do not have lunch or breakfast. I just have an evening meal — it is my tradition.
“That is why I am always in the office moving with the meetings.
“After I finish with the documents, I invite my subordinates one by one to discuss what is necessary.
“The papers are transferred to the secretary. Then, it depends.
“Usually during the daytime, not everyday, I usually have meetings scheduled with the different officials here and private business people, whether with the ministries or with the private companies.
“Actually, the main purpose of the embassy here is to develop economic relations, so the scope of these meetings can be very wide.
“So, I have these meetings, plus some other requested meetings. When we finish it is usually 7pm or 8pm. Then the receptions start.
“Usually there are invitations scheduled at around 7pm to 8pm or I go to official functions.
“Like a few days ago with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, the evenings are busy. Then after that I go home. By then the time is already around 3am.
“Then I go to sleep. I try not to invite my people to the office on Saturdays or Sundays.
“For leisure, I usually swim, get some sun and also go to the sauna.
“I never tried golf. It was suggested to me to try to golf.
“First of all, I do not know how to play the game. Second, it is very hot for me. We do not have golf courses in Ukraine, because of our weather.
“The weather changes our landscape. It is very good for agriculture, we have some of the best black soil lands (30% of the world’s black soil is in Ukraine), that is why we have very good crops.
“But, it is not so good for golf courses. It is just practically impossible. People in Ukraine who like to play golf go abroad.”
Before getting to the business heart of our interview, conversation flowed to his other role:
“In June, I spent several weeks in New York. Actually, I am there for the month every June. The committee of contributions – It is a board that divides the financial burden of UN member countries.
“We establish the assessment rates for each country. How much to pay to the UN.
“It is very big money. It is not representing the individual countries. The experts are elected in our personal capacity.
“There are 18 members from the Eastern group. We have three seats – from the Russian federation, Poland and Ukraine.
“I was elected in 1999, and at this stage I am one of the longest-serving committee members.
“Every three years there is a re-election. It is open to be voted.”
I wondered, with this sort of a schedule, how frequently he manages to return home to Ukraine.
With a hint of amusement he admits that it is a lot less than he would like: “If you take the summer to summer time frame – the last 12 months — I spent 16 days in Ukraine.”
He explains that his days are occupied by not just matters within KL, but includes extensive business travelling around our country.
However, to manage a little downtime he has managed to successfully combine leisure and business.
“My business trips take me around Malaysia. For leisure, I like Kuantan or Pangkor.
“Other places I have visited are Langkawi and several times to Penang.
“For Sabah and Sarawak it was for work, but in Sarawak we combined it with two days of vacation on a Saturday and Sunday.
“There was the chance to be in the meeting venue, then a day or two at the ocean. There are also the places which are nearer, like Port Dickson.
“When our people come here and want to combine business and leisure, they do not want to be so far from KL. So, they move back and forth.
“They can enjoy the sea in the evenings, but in the daytime they will be in KL,” he said.
Talk of leisure and travel, brought up talk of tourism.
During his time as Ukraine’s ambassador to Thailand, he successfully increased Ukrainian tourism numbers from 5,000 to 50,000 tourists a year.
He informs me that currently Malaysia receives about 3,000 Ukrainian tourists each year.
“Only about two million people from Europe in total are coming here. To achieve the same number as in Thailand is not easy, but, it is possible to achieve this figure.
“To increase tourism, it is necessary to have interpreters, and contracts between the hotels and companies to attract the tourists to come.
“I am trying to facilitate this, but at this stage our Ukrainian tourism ministry is not very active in this direction. It is very difficult to develop when there is no activity or business entities included.
In Thailand, there are many Russians — there are about 800,000. It was developed over four or five years. There is a lot of investments that have been made.
“There is a lot of land that has been purchased by our people — not just by Russians, but, by Ukrainians also — in Phuket and other areas also. Because, the idea to come to this area 10 years ago when the airlines established the routes.
“That is the main thing. When there are direct flights, then people come and decided to buy.”
And, for Malaysian tourists going to Ukraine, he informs me that they have been in discussions with Malaysia’s Home Ministry to implement visa-free travel and is confident that the approval will soon be granted.
Imports and exports
From there, our conversation moved towards the current economic relations between our two countries.
“A joint venture was established to bring the palm oil from Malaysia through Odessa on the Black Sea, one of Ukraine’s biggest ports.
“We are a major importer of palm oil from Malaysia.
“If you see the structure, there is a lot of products connected with electronics, like chips.
“Also, chemicals and seafood. Some furniture and crafts. But, the bulk of Ukraine’s imports from Malaysia is palm oil, electronics and some machinery parts.
“All together, trade with Malaysia is worth hundred of millions, about US$600mil a year (RM1.9bil). Not so small and not so big, but in Central and Eastern Europe, we are among the top importers of Malaysian products.”
“Ukraine is an industrial country. We have both industry and agriculture and they are both important.
“Traditionally, Ukraine has always been considered the bread basket of the former Soviet Union, producing the bulk of the grain.
“Heavy industry of course now offers greater output and constitutes about 78% of the economy. These days, it’s iron and steel, chemical products, then machinery, then agricultural products. But, agriculture is still a very important part,” Humennyi explains.
“Usually we produce 50 million tonnes of grain. About, let us say 20% of our total export revenue comes from agricultural trade.
“This is definitely a very important part of our economic potential.
“We sell our grains here, especially wheat. The number is about US$10mil a year. This is small, but with this number we are the fourth among the major exporters – Australia, US, Canada then Ukraine.
“We just started here and it is necessary to work more. I am trying to do this.
“In principle, there is a market here. We are starting to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture about the possibility to export our meat. It is possible to sell our beef and lamb here. We are working on that to diversify our agricultural trade here. Fresh products like tuna is also a possibility.
“So, we talk with the Ministry of Agriculture about the possibilities. We had our last meeting in mid-July. We are working on this all the time.”
However, he stresses that though trade talks have been very much on the books, there are also many other possible economic ventures that Malaysia and Ukraine have been exploring.
“In June, we were working extensively with Petronas on the possibility of involvement of Petronas in deep water drilling in our part of the Black Sea shelf. We have oil and gas already discovered, and also the creation of liquified natural gas terminal near Odessa.
“As well as the supply of LNG to Ukraine. These are the processes under consideration with energy companies.
“In principle we are starting this and there are some compelling reasons for Malaysia to participate in very big outputs and very big investments.
“But, here, on our side, we are trying to introduce our energy equipment, which is reliable and in use in other countries in the area. We were the main producers of this equipment in the former USSR.
“We are in the process of preparation to showcase what we are making. That is why we are closely working with Tenaga Nasional, and again with Petronas,” he added.
On that, we were called to lunch and our discussions lightened up with talk of the local foods that Humennyi has tried.
We served him a non-spicy chicken dish at first, though he brushed aside our concerns and chose instead to try a heavily spiced fish that Salmiah Isa had prepared.
“It is very good. Malaysian food by Malaysians, so it is natural and really to be enjoyed.”
As we ate, Humennyi extended his gracious invitation to us, “On Sept 11, we will have our National Day celebrations and we will try to incorporate some Ukrainians dishes, so that you can try.”