UKRAINE has an army of young, educated and articulate ambassadors in its service in Malaysia.
While they are as Malaysian as they come, these 2,000-odd unofficial envoys do yeomen service by word of mouth for an adoptive nation in which they lived for a good many years.
They are the doctors who graduated from the Crimea State Medical University until complications unexpectedly resulted in the university's medical programme being de-registered by the Malaysian government.
This did not affect students already enrolled at the university, many of whom later graduated and are now working in Malaysia.
While they may complain mostly about how cold Ukraine can be, many remember the good times with students of various nationalities and the camaraderie experienced there.
Ukraine was not well known in Malaysia until parents came to learn that medical studies there cost a fraction of what it did in India and the United Kingdom, and the exodus to Crimea began.
In later years and for obvious reasons, Ukraine lost out to Indonesia in terms of being a destination for Malaysian medical students, with the latter offering even cheaper studies than the former with the added benefit of an almost common language.
Ukranian ambassador to Malaysia, Ihor Humennyi, tells me of the woes that had afflicted the university, seen for years as an inexpensive but quality destination for medical studies for Malaysians.
A scandal linked to the alleged lowering of entry standards for Malaysians and claims of unfamiliarity of some CSMU graduates with English medical terms and procedures led to its de-recognition.
But Humennyi is doing his best to get the Malaysian government to review the situation, and may actually be getting somewhere with his efforts.
"I spoke to the director-general of Health here, who sent a team to Ukraine on Oct 17 to review the situation. The issue is under consideration and I hope to expect good news soon," says the envoy, who is also accredited to Timor Leste.
The Malaysians who studied medicine in Ukraine picked up a smattering of Russian as they had to speak to patients in the language. The knowledge of Russian and joint classes with Ukranians also led to several mixed marriages.
"Malaysians who graduated from Ukraine speak some Russian although their studies were in English. They can be considered our unofficial ambassadors to Malaysia,' the 56-year-old says with a hint of the reserve of someone who began his diplomatic career in the communist Soviet Union era, where press relations was tightly scripted.
But the former director-general in the Foreign Ministry, who once oversaw 128 nations, including Malaysia, warms up over the hour-long interview to flash a few smiles and engage in small talk.
Humennyi expects Lincoln University to start a twinning programme soon where Malaysian medical students can carry out part of their course in Ukraine.
Besides the educational link between the two countries, trade is another area where both nations are reaping handsome benefits.
Asked details of Malaysians with business interests in Ukraine, Humennyi surprises me with the first name on his short list -- billionaire T. Ananda Krishnan.
"He visits Ukraine at least once a year," he says without even blinking an eye as he mentions the name of one of Malaysia's richest men.
Bilateral trade stands at US$600 million (about RM2 billion), a respectable figure for nations thousands of kilometres apart that don't have a historical trade relationship.
The relationship, if any, came by way of Malaysia's links with the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a sub-national republic despite an old and rich past as an independent nation before the Russians moved in.
Today, business links are fast being established with businessmen arriving here last month from the capital city of Kiev to look into the possibility of investing in machinery building plants and in the oil and gas industry .
They have started negotiations with Tenaga National Bhd and Petronas, which appear interested in tie-ups.
Humennyi beams as he tells me of his meeting last week with officials of the Department of Civil Aviation, the Defence Ministry and Airod over the possibility of the Antonov company establishing a foothold here.
"The discussions are at a preliminary stage at the moment. Our businessmen are also looking at shipbuilding here with interest in special vessels that can be used in the oil and gas industry," says the hardworking envoy, who is trying to establish a Ukraine-Malaysia Business Council.
"I am pursuing this possibility but it will take time as we have to find the people to set it up," said Humennyi .
The nation that gave the world, among others, the boxing brothers, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, and chicken kiev, hopes to become a close ally of Malaysia through trade and people-to-people links, especially with its "ambassadors" already in place here.