Interview of the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the State of Israel Mr. Hennadii Nadolenko for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Israel-Ukraine
Ukrainian-Israeli relations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic
Mr. Ambassador, please tell us about the work of the Embassy of Ukraine in the State of Israel in the early days of the announcement of quarantine in Israel. How many applications have the Embassy received then?
In order to ensure effective assistance to Ukrainian citizens under the threat of wide spreading of the disease of COVID-19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine decided on special regime of diplomatic missions of Ukraine abroad providing a remote form of work with citizens’ appeals and enhanced request processing. It ensures protective measures for employees of the diplomatic service and provides conditions for citizens to apply online wherever possible. Thus, the Embassy of Ukraine in Israel and, in particular, its consular department, continued to perform full duties in mobilization mode.
In the early days of the quarantine, the consular department of the Embassy processed about 100 phone calls and about 50 e-mails daily. Today we receive about 40 calls and about 20 written requests daily.
How did the Embassy manage to maintain efficiency in emergency?
First of all, this is the merit of the consular department staff, their willingness to quickly respond to the challenges for Ukrainian citizens due to the pandemic, borders closures and the termination of air traffic, their ability to understand every situation that our compatriots are facing these days and, simply doing their best.
According to your data, how many Ukrainians left Israel since the introduction of quarantine measures?
As per today, according to the Embassy, more than 500 people have flown from Israel to Ukraine by evacuation flights; in addition, about 100 citizens have left Israel with Belavia Airlines flights via Minsk.
Are there any cases of infection of citizens of Ukraine located in Israel?
The Embassy does not have information about citizens of Ukraine who has become infected with coronavirus, but we do not exclude that such cases could be within the Ukrainian citizens who also possess Israeli citizenship and are considered by Israeli authorities as Israeli citizens.
There are probably many citizens of Ukraine who for different reasons remain in Israel. How does the Embassy support these people?
The main areas of assistance to citizens of Ukraine were defined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba in the program “Protection”. In particular, the Embassy provides assistance in resolving the issues of expired documents / permits / visas to stay in the country; informs about the possibility of returning to Ukraine, for example, through neighboring countries of Ukraine, provides quick processing of travel documents, provides information on various issues and, as far as possible, resolves everyday issues, in some cases ensures the transportation of Ukrainian citizens to the airport.
What working schedule the Embassy adheres today and when do you plan to resume work in full – the usual “prequarantine” mode?
At the moment, our work is remote mostly. The decision on our future work will be based, of course, on the easing of the quarantine conditions in regard to the development of the situation with COVID-19.
Ukrainian-Israeli relations. According to your forecasts, how will the situation with COVID-19, in particular the closure of borders and quarantine measures, affect the relations between our two countries? Which areas will suffer, and which, conversely, will benefit?
Ukraine and Israel enjoy the friendship and partnership, as well as the existing level of mutual understanding and trust. Comprehensive cooperation with Israel is one of important vectors of Ukraine’s foreign policy. Israel remains our key trading partner in the Middle East region. According to statistics, in 2019, trade in goods and services between Ukraine and Israel amounted to $ 1 billion 116.3 million. USA.
Ukraine is extremely interested in stable trade and economic relations with the State of Israel. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 will definitely have a very negative impact on them with first sacrifices already known – tourism and air transportation.
Taking into account the global nature of economic and humanitarian crisis caused by the pandemic, this area of our interaction is critically important to support life activities in both countries.
With our mutual efforts, we must preserve at least some of the gains that we had only yesterday and minimize the negative impacts on our economies.
I would like to emphasize that even in these extraordinary conditions Ukraine is not planning to impose restrictive measures on trade with Israel and will endeavor to ensure the movement of goods and services between our countries to the maximum possible extent. We will strongly encourage our entrepreneurs to continue their cooperation with Israeli partners. I look forward to a similar approach by our Israeli friends.
In this context, I welcome the decision of the Ministry of Agriculture of Israel to lift, finally, the ban on import of Ukrainian table eggs.
I am very pleased that Ukraine has been able to help our friend country to solve the acute shortage of table eggs on the eve of Passover.
We understand that the fight against the coronavirus pandemic will take a long time and will have a significant impact on the world trade. As I know, Israeli government agencies are currently seeking alternative sources of supply for imports that have declined due to the epidemiological situation, primarily from China and Southeast Asia. In this regard, Ukraine is ready to become a supplier to Israel of goods and services traditionally received from other regions of the world.
Taking into account the new reality encountered in a connection with COVID-19, what are the priorities that Embassy sets for 2020-2021 in the development of bilateral relations?
The new reality caused by the pandemic brought a number of previously unknown variables into the embassy’s planning for the future tasks and priorities.
In these circumstances, the main goal for us would be fast coming into force of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (on goods) signed on January 21, 2019.
This Agreement supposed to help us to withstand decrease of the trade turnover between the countries, as well as to diversify it and to facilitate the entry of companies of both states into each other’s markets.
We expect Israel to finish all the domestic procedures for the entry of the Free Trade Agreement into force. I hope that its ratification will be on the agenda of the newly-appointed Israeli Government.
We do believe that introduction of a bilateral FTA will increase Israel’s investment in the Ukrainian economy and expand our cooperation in the IT industry and innovative technologies.
In today’s harsh realities, maximizing the use of the investment and innovation potential of both countries should be an important stage of economic interaction.
I consider the development of cooperation in Hi-Tech as the most perspective direction of bilateral economic interaction and the Embassy will support all undertakings with this scope.
Meeting the current challenges also requires a shift to new forms and methods. That is why it’s very important and urgent to implement our leaders’ agreements (reached during the visit of Mr. B.Netanyahu to Ukraine in August last year) to set up offices for innovation development and investment attraction in Kyiv and Jerusalem.
Therefore, in our Embassy we consider this goal also a high priority.
Is there any interaction between the two countries at the state level in the fight against the pandemic?
The pandemic, of course, also affected the quantity and quality of international exchanges. In this context, bilateral Ukrainian-Israeli relations are no exception. We had many planned events at various levels for this year. As a result of the pandemic, the leadership of Ukraine and Israel was forced to focus on internal agendas. Now the resource and political will are subordinate to this problem.
However the communication remained, first of all, through the embassies of Ukraine and Israel, it just changed its form. We use for this goal platforms based on modern technologies.
To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Ukraine introduced constant monitoring and analysis of the latest scientific developments and best international practices in the field of combating coronavirus (diagnosis, treatment, prevention of spread, etc.). In particular, we are closely monitoring the measures taken by the Israeli government to combat the pandemic and are interested in close cooperation both in this area and in the health sector as a whole.
We turned to the Government of Israel with a request to provide possible humanitarian assistance (tests for COVID-19, mechanical ventilation devices, personal protective equipment, etc.) and confirmed the readiness of the Government of Ukraine to join efforts to overcome COVID-19.
Given the continued reform of the healthcare system in Ukraine, as well as the significant professional and technological potential of Israel, we believe that the development of cooperation with the Israeli side in this area is promising. Now this is one of the priority areas of our work.
How do you assess the economic impact of the pandemic for Ukraine?
The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine expects a peak incidence of coronavirus infection COVID-19 in early May. After its passage, the Government of Ukraine will begin to implement anti-crisis measures to support the economy. Under such conditions, forecasts are now meaningless.
In our work, we focus on the analysis of the economic situation in Israel, the consequences of the pandemic for bilateral trade.
According to the IMF, by the end of the year, Israeli economic activity will decline by 6.3%. Even after quitting quarantine and restoring economic activity, the unemployment rate will be 12% by the end of the year, three times more than before the crisis.
Reduced economic activity and high unemployment will lead to deflation and a 2% reduction in prices.
Access of domestic subjects of foreign economic activity to the Israeli market is not limited yet.
We thank Mr. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the State of Israel Mr. Hennadii Nadolenko for the opportunity to talk and get answers to burning questions regarding bilateral relations between Ukraine and Israel.