Abu Dhabi: "Ukraine can and will be the guarantor of the food security of the Emirates," according to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, who is on an official visit to the UAE.
In an exclusive interview with Emirates News Agency (WAM) upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi Saturday afternoon, he said around 15,000 Ukrainian residents in the UAE, as well as Ukrainian tourists (250,000 visited the UAE in 2019) highly appreciate the freedom of worship here, "in their own church in their native language".
Zelenskyy, 43, the youngest president in Ukraine's history, added, "We welcome your country's achievements in space, including the successful mission of the Hope Probe."
He had an illustrious career as an actor, performer, script writer and filmmaker, winning several prizes in National Television Award of Ukraine, international film festivals and media forums before occupying the top job. He is on his first official visit to a Middle Eastern country after being sworn in as the sixth President of Ukraine in May 2019.
Food security cooperation
Talking about the food security cooperation, Zelenskyy explained that traditional areas of cooperation have already been developed with agro-industrial products being the main exports from Ukraine to the UAE.
"Indeed, Ukraine can and will be the guarantor of the food security of the Emirates. Ukrainian black soils are well known all over the world, we are among the world leaders in the export of wheat, corn and barley," stressed the president.
The Ukrainian food exports to the UAE were valued at US$252.2 million in 2019, majorly constituting sunflower oil, rapeseed, eggs, poultry and wheat flour, according to the Ukrainian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Even the Ukraine pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will symbolise the idea of food security, the president revealed.
"The architectural design of the pavilion embodies the idea of a wheat ear. Wheat is an important symbol for Ukrainians and the yellow colour on our flag symbolises the wheat field and readiness to contribute to world food security," he said.
Unforgettable support to fight COVID-19
Zelenskyy commended the UAE's "incredible efforts to fight coronavirus, not only at home but also abroad."
"The UAE provided assistance to many countries around the world and Ukraine will not forget the Emirati airplane, which so timely and with friendly warmth delivered humanitarian aid to confront COVID-19 and the UAE helped many Ukrainians to get back home," he added.
The Ukrainian president was referring to the aid plane that was sent to his country in April 2020, carrying 11 metric tons of medical supplies, benefitting 10,000 healthcare professionals. 113 Ukrainian citizens were also repatriated on that plane.
"For this I would like to thank once again the leadership of your country," he reiterated. "Therefore, it is absolutely logical that the UAE is one of Ukraine's key partners in the Middle East region, and our country pays special attention to the development of relations with the UAE."
30 bilateral deals strengthen ties
"We consider deepening and expanding bilateral relations with the Emirates as a priority of our foreign policy. This is very important for us and we are gradually moving to expand the horizons of our relationship by putting more and more ambitious projects on the agenda," the president stressed.
"The UAE is a country, which demonstrates extremely fast development and has a huge economic potential. The Emirates clearly show natural leadership in not only in the economy, technology, social sphere, but also in the regional peace process.
Normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel has become a real breakthrough, and Ukraine welcomes this historic step."
The dynamic bilateral relations are further developing as the economic indicators, including bilateral trade, legal framework of more than 30 bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Cooperation, and cultural and humanitarian cooperation prove it, he noted.
"I believe that through exchanges of visits and active political dialogue with the leadership of your country we can fill our bilateral cooperation with new concrete projects and find new mechanisms to intensify relations," the president said.
About 15,000 Ukrainians live in the UAE, and that number is growing.
"It is important that our citizens have the opportunity to pray and ask for God's help in their native language in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the UAE," Zelenskyy said.
The community members work in various fields, including hospitality, IT and finance, and they have formed several associations of their own in recent years, including the Ukrainian Business Council, two Ukrainian weekend schools in Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, he explained.
The visa-free regime between the two countries facilitate high tourist traffic. "Only in 2019 more than 250,000 of our citizens visited the Emirates," he revealed.
Although the pandemic has affected the tourist traffic, once the situation improves, Ukrainians will resume their travels to the Emirates, and Emiratis, in their turn, will be free to discover Ukraine, which also has countless unique tourist destinations, the president added.
Cultural and humanitarian cooperation
Talking about global events that the UAE host, he said many Ukrainian artists, athletes and cultural figures visited the UAE to attend important events in 2019.
"I know that this year the Emirates will resume its events so our cultural and humanitarian cooperation will resume," he added.
Ukrainian high-level delegations will take part in the upcoming events such as International Defence Exhibition and Conference 2021 and Expo 2020 Dubai.
"I would like to thank the UAE leadership that, despite all the difficulties caused by the coronavirus, the construction of the Ukrainian pavilion was completed in December last year and internal works are underway," the president emphasised.
Strong economic ties
Talking about bilateral trade, the President of Ukraine said there has been a steady growth with the UAE in recent years.
"The UAE is a reliable and important trading partner for Ukrainian companies. Currently more than 200 Ukrainian companies operate in the UAE as an evidence of this fact," he said.
The total bilateral trade was valued at US$1.07 billion in 2019, he revealed.
Apart from the already developed agro-industrial product exports to the UAE, "We also strive and work to ensure that high-tech products with high added value begin to dominate our trade structure," the president emphasised.
"To do this, we are ready to invite our Emirati colleagues to focus on joint production projects of such high-tech products. Ukraine has the appropriate technologies and with the help of investments from the UAE we can create such products for our own needs and for supply to third country markets.
"For example, space could be such a high-tech field. We welcome your country's achievements in space, including the successful mission of the Hope Probe, and with one of the world's recognised leaders in this field, Yuzhnoye State Design Office [Ukrainian space-technology company] we can jointly expand our space capabilities."
He noted that, on the other hand, Ukraine is ready to adopt the best experience of the UAE in the field of artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources and infrastructure development.
"Attracting investment to the economy is one of the most important issues today for every country and Ukraine is not an exception here," he said.
"The inflow of investments is an important factor of the stable economic development and a clear signal to investors, so cooperation in investments and innovation is among the key areas of relations between Ukraine and the UAE."
Zelenskyy pointed out to a "successful" example of attracting Emirati investments into the Ukrainian market, which is DP World's operation of a container terminal in the Odessa region in the south of Ukraine.