As this year marked Ukraine’s 25th diplomatic friendship with Malaysia, Ukrainian ambassador to Malaysia Olexander Nechytaylo said they would put more emphasis on tourism, education, and business economics. (Pix by MALAI ROSMAH TUAH)

KOTA KINABALU: Ukraine remains committed to fostering and strengthening bilateral relationship with Malaysia to bring further positive progress to both countries in near future.

As this year marked Ukraine’s 25th diplomatic friendship with Malaysia, Ukrainian ambassador to Malaysia Olexander Nechytaylo said they would put more emphasis on tourism, education, and business economics.

“One of my important jobs is to promote Ukraine as a tourist destination for Malaysians. We are (currently) looking at different ways to work with travel agents and airlines to create products that would be of the interest of Malaysian tourists.

“We are looking at products that can be marketed in Malaysia. I also hope Malaysia can work with us to promote Ukraine as a travel destination as the country has a lot to offer,” he told reporters when met here, today.

Nechytaylo, who was in Sabah for the first time to attend the Malaysia Day celebration, said there were over 12,000 Ukrainians travelling to Malaysia last year, adding they expect the number to increase by 30 per cent this year.

As per Malaysians visiting Ukraine, he estimated there were only hundreds of them, adding there is a need to study the travel trend among Malaysians in order to promote Ukraine.

“Since I came to Malaysia, I am learning about their interests and my understanding is that Malaysians are quite bored with traditional destinations like Western Europe and Australia.

“They want to explore new places like Japan, Croatia, and Turkey among others. So, we want to market Ukraine as part of the travel package to Central and Eastern Europe because from Istanbul to Kiev is only an hour long flight,” he said.

Ukraine is a home to seven Unesco World Heritage sites and its capital city Kiev is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe. The country also has minority Muslim community from Crimea.

Crimea, however, is currently occupied by Russia following the 2014 unannounced invasion of southeastern Ukraine.

“They (Ukraine’s Muslim community) are Crimean tatars and large part them don’t want to take Russian citizenships so they move to mainland Ukraine and opened food outlets that offer halal food. So we have variety of food to offer,” explained Nechytaylo.

In April this year, the Ukraine government offered visa on arrival for Malaysians. It is now working closely with Wisma Putra to reach a mutual agreement to offer 90-day visa waiver.

Nechytaylo noted that Sabah was one of the popular destinations in Malaysia among Ukrainians while toying the idea of establishing an honorary consulate in the state.

On the business aspect, he said there are 80 Ukrainians registered with the embassy who are residing and working in the country. Most of them worked in the Information Technology field in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and other areas.

He noted that Ukraine’s economy was mostly driven by agriculture and IT, stressing the development progress especially in Sabah would open investment opportunity for Ukraine’s business players.

“Sabah is a big state in Malaysia. With projects such as the oil and gas and the Pan Borneo Highway, I believe there will be an interest to participate (in business investment).

“For the past three years after Russia occupied Cremia, Ukrainians have shifted their business activities elsewhere and I invited them to look into (investing ) in Malaysia.

“So last year, we have 43 business people participated in Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation in Sabah. The interest is there and I need to keep the interest going,” he said.

Nechytaylo was also looking at reviving education cooperation as Ukraine is one of the most popular education hub in central eastern Europe.

“There was a time, probably 12 years ago, we used to have over 1,000 Malaysian students studying in Ukraine but the number has decreased significantly. Most Malaysians took up medicine in Ukraine.

“My idea is to revive this cooperation because we have good universities and it’s quite compet

itive in terms of pricing and providing good education. So part of my job is to hook up universities in both countries to form partnership,” he said.

Nechytaylo noted that Malaysia has come so far to become a progressive nation with diverse communities living in harmony and upholding unity over the past 54 years

“Yesterday was an important national holiday (for Malaysia) that emphasises the unity of peninsula and east of Malaysia. This is important as it helps Malaysia to become what it is now.

“I wish Malaysia further prosperity and peace. Ukraine has been good partner of Malaysia and it will remain,” he said.