We are beginning a new stage in relations with the Ukrainian diaspora. At the very least, our program shall simplify the circumstances of living in Ukraine for “foreign” Ukrainians (those from outside of Ukraine’s borders). At best, our program will include them as investors or members of supervisory boards.
We all watched the recent Euro 2020 soccer games and saw as our fans supported our blue-and-yellow team in stadiums in Glasgow and Rome. Citizens of Ukraine, like other foreigners, could not enter the stadiums because of coronavirus limitations. Who, then, were our team’s fans?
The answer is simple: Ukrainians, who permanently reside in those countries where the games took place; i.e., the Ukrainian diaspora. Based on various estimates, 12 million to 20 million Ukrainians reside outside of Ukraine’s borders.
These are people who left Ukraine either recently or long ago, either temporarily or as permanent residents. They are either first-generation emigrants or children or grandchildren of emigrants. They are not in Ukraine, but with Ukraine.
We clearly understand that it is of utmost importance to develop and support the diaspora, and we are starting to do this, even despite the fact that the pandemic strongly limits our possibilities for international contact.
For example, there are almost 1.4 million Ukrainians on the territory of Canada. And it is important for us to facilitate that Ukrainians from throughout North America all come to Ukraine, not to visit, but to come home; that the Ukrainian community of North America actively join in building a new, democratic and prosperous Ukraine.
Let’s be frank: on matters of preserving the language, education, cultural heritage and traditions, the diaspora quite often made a greater contribution to Ukraine than residents in our own country. You are all keenly aware of the Ukrainian Catholic University, which does not receive any government funding, but exists exclusively due to the charitable donations made by people from all over the world. Today it is one of the leading institutions in Ukraine.
In today’s environment, the role of the diaspora is also important because foreign Ukrainians help protect Ukraine from Russian aggression, especially by lobbying for Russian sanctions. And we are deeply grateful to them for what they did and do to stop Russian aggression and help renew Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
However, I am convinced that relations with the diaspora can be based not only on traditions and history. Our purpose is to show foreign Ukrainians that contemporary Ukraine is rapidly changing, and that they can participate in these changes.
First, they can invest in our country. We’re not talking only about money, but also about technologies, experience and communications with the business world. That is precisely why we are now working on special programs that will grant foreign Ukrainians optimal conditions for investing in the economy.
Second, we shall encourage the diaspora to work in Ukraine by taking up roles in management, in fighting corruption, and helping Ukraine transition to world standards. Presently, we are forming a large number of supervisory boards in various formats, and inviting consultants and advisors to government agencies. Our goal is that primarily ethnic Ukrainians, representatives of the diaspora, act as international experts. This will help increase international trust in Ukrainian institutions.
It is no secret to anyone that Ukraine is experiencing a personnel crisis. The old corrupt managers lack a conscience, the new faces lack experience. So, we are waiting for people with a Western education and Western ways of thinking, and we are creating the conditions for them to work in Ukraine. For us this will be a tremendous impetus for development. For them it will be an opportunity to express themselves in a new role and participate in the transformation of their homeland.
One more important item: we are working to make it possible for the diaspora to travel freely in Ukraine, both for business and relaxation, own property here, open up businesses, and to reside permanently or temporarily in the country. They will receive access to the whole infrastructure, from organizations in the cultural sphere to the economic and beyond.
This requires innovative tools – we are currently studying the possibility of electronic citizenship, which already exists in the Baltic nations and other countries. Of course, we are also talking about those Ukrainians that today are citizens of the aggressor state.
Legislative initiatives are already being discussed that address dual citizenship, as well as legislation that concerns the status of foreign Ukrainians. For starters, we shall clearly outline the minimum that Ukraine can give to our diaspora.
This will be the first step toward the global Ukraine that we all dream about. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he strives to build a country to which one wants to return. This will most likely not happen immediately. It may never happen. But surely, members of the Ukrainian diaspora can return to leave their mark in Ukraine.
Oleksandr Korniyenko is a member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, head of the Servant of the People party and chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee responsible for organizing government and state services.
(Translated from the original Ukrainian by Leo Iwaskiw.)