Ukraine is asking the Philippine government to allow a visa-free access to their citizens to help promote the country as a major tourist destination in the region.
“My idea is to help simplify the travel procedures between Ukraine and the Philippines. So far, Ukrainians require visas to visit the Philippines, unlike (in) Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand,” said newly designated Ukraine Ambassador Olexander Nechytaylo in an exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin over the weekend.
Nechytaylo, a nonresident envoy to the Philippines with jurisdiction over Malaysia and Timor Leste, said the discrepancy in the number of tourists visiting the country as compared to some of its neighbors in Southeast Asia is “tremendous.”
“That is also reflected in the numbers. The number of those visiting Malaysia, where I am based for the past year, was 15,000. The number of Ukrainians who visited the Philippines for the same period is only 200. It’s a tremendous difference,” the Ukrainian official said.
Nechytaylo pointed out that the Philippines is a bit an “underdiscovered” territory for Ukrainian tourists.
While he sees a positive trend in the number of Ukrainians visiting the Philippines, the envoy, however, would like more of their people to come here to experience what the country can offer.
“The country (Philippines) is absolutely amazing. You have something that other destinations in Asia don’t have,” the ambassador said.
At present, Ukrainians are being accorded with visa-free access in several key ASEAN destinations like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Nechytaylo also suggested that a “visa-upon-arrival” scheme could be an option to be able to encourage Ukrainians tourists to come and explore the Philippines.
During the interview, Nechytaylo didn’t hide his admiration for the Filipinos whom he described as “happy people.”
“I will summarize it in two words – happy people,” the ambassador said when asked about his first impression of the Filipinos.
In their capital city of Kiev, he narrated that a small Filipino community has always been very active in church and social gatherings.
“Every time there is an event, like an international day where people from different nationalities, they bring their national dish. The Filipino community has been very active not only by coming with their national dishes but also they dress up in ‘barong’ or in national dress. They’re enjoying life and a happy people. That’s how we look at the Philippines,” said the official from the eastern European country.
Furthermore, he noted the Filipinos as “very hardworking, very reliable people.”
This Filipino character, he said, is evident in the United Nations where a lot of them are working in the UN Secretariat.
“Everybody knows that if you have a job to do, (Filipinos) are somebody who really doesn’t mind working for extra hours,” the Ukrainian diplomat said.
Nechytaylo considers the Philippines as a “very special country” as he was a member of the first high-level delegation from Ukraine that came to Manila in April 1997, five years after the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Incidentally, the Philippines was the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize the independence of Ukraine in 1991.
His appointment as envoy to the Philippines, Nechytaylo said, is an indication of Ukraine’s determination to push the relationship to a new level.
“In the past 25 years, a lot of things were done in terms of political dialogue, trade, cultural exchanges. My country wants to emphasize that Ukraine is determined to bring the relations with the Philippines and the ASEAN in general, to a different level,” he said.
While trading between Manila and Kiev is still insignificant, the envoy said they see the potential of opening their markets for Philippine products as he is getting requests to allow the export of tropical fruits, including dried mangoes to Ukraine.
One of the steps, he explained, is to bring a business delegation from Ukraine for a dialogue, matchmaking and networking session with their Filipino counterparts.
According to the visiting envoy, there are certain commonalities and closeness in the mindset between Ukrainians and Filipinos – both are hardworking people
Ukraine has also its own overseas workers whose remittances contribute to their national gross domestic product (GDP) and helps develop their economy, “but not as much as in the Philippines.”
Currently, Ukraine is third in the world in terms of providing seafarers while the Philippines ranks first with India in second place.
Nechytaylo was here in Manila last week for the presentation of his credentials to President Duterte.