The Ukrainian Institute presented the results of the research within the framework of a comprehensive project to study the perception of Ukraine abroad. The project for the first time explores the attitude and expectations of foreign audiences towards Ukraine, its culture and opportunities for cooperation, their awareness of modern culture and cultural heritage of Ukraine.
“We focused on the opinions of experts, representatives of the diplomatic corps, public opinion leaders in order to understand the perception of Ukraine abroad. The research confirmed that we to some extent overestimate the recognisability of Ukrainian personalities and phenomena in the world. Experts do not know about Lesya Ukrainka, Taras Shevchenko, or Ukrainian contemporary artists,” says Volodymyr Sheiko, Director General of the Ukrainian Institute.
Emine Dzheppar, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, explains why Japan, Turkey, and the United States were the first countries represented in the project. “We need to move towards Asia. Japan is a powerful country and a regional leader. These data will be a robust source of information for us to close the gaps in Japan’s perception of Ukraine. Turkey is a strategic partner and is interesting to us in the context of the Black Sea security and the occupation of Crimea. Contacts with this country are already established at a very high level. As for the United States, we are entering a new phase of relations, and we need to monitor the sentiments inside the country,” she specifies.
According to Dzheppar, it is necessary to develop positive characteristics and traits with which Ukraine will be associated, as well as to look for a strong narrative: Ukraine as a country that is moving towards the development despite external aggression.
Ukraine and Japan
According to Sergiy Korsunsky, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Japan, it is not always Ukraine’s fault if Ukraine is not known abroad. The Japanese people are very focused on Japan. They consider their country very self-sufficient, and for the message to reach them, it must primarily be in Japanese.
Serhiy Herasymchuk, Director of the Regional Initiatives and Neighborhood programme, notes that Ukraine is often perceived through the Russian context and associated with Russia. Among the main reasons are the language (Japanese often know only Russian and read Russian media) and the fact that experts are guided by knowledge about Ukraine inherited from the USSR and consider many Ukrainians phenomena to be Russian (such as borscht). Since 2014, Ukraine has been known as a country that opposes Russia, which for many means that it is dangerous there. Ukraine is associated with Chornobyl, and there is a certain empathy and understanding that such a tragedy can happen in any country after the Fukushima case.
The Japanese know Ukrainian folk singers and musicians, Ukrainian designers and national clothes, are familiar with the phenomenon of the Cossacks and associate them with samurai.
“Japan has had a more political interest in Ukraine from the earliest times. For its part, Ukraine has always had a more cultural and research interest. That is, the approaches have been different. As for ordinary Japanese, the Japanese society is very apolitical. Our task is to shift Japan’s focus from political to cultural issues. We must promote the image of Ukraine as an advanced state. Talk about tourism potential, food, culture,” explains Violetta Udovik, Second Secretary for Cultural and Humanitarian Cooperation of the Embassy of Ukraine in Japan.
Ukraine and Turkey
Yevhenia Haber, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ukraine, says that Turkey sees Ukraine as a trouble-free country. However, very little is known about Ukraine in Turkey. According to her, the reason is not inefficient work of the Embassy, diplomatic and cultural institutions. The reason is that Ukraine was not historically independent and a full-fledged partner of Turkey in the past. “We can talk about the untapped potential of Ukraine in terms of cultural cooperation. Ukraine is not perceived independently because relations between Ukraine and Turkey have always been built through the prism of third countries – Russia and others,” Yevhenia Haber explains.
Since 2014, Ukraine and Russia have been talked about in Turkey not as fraternal peoples but as different peoples and different countries. Compared to Russia, Ukraine is presented as a liberal, democratic country fighting for a European future and is positively perceived in terms of protecting the human rights, especially the rights of Crimean Tatars.
“It has become much more of Ukraine in Turkey. We should foster the right narratives and brand Ukraine correctly. We should remember that what works in Turkey will work in this region and in the Turkic world,” underlines Andrii Sybiha, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Turkey.
Ukraine and the United States
Hanna Shelest, Director of Security Programmes at Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism,” emphasises that the United States is not monolithic and that was the complexity of the research. The political context in knowledge about Ukraine, however, dominates and political things come to the fore. “In recent years, the scope of knowledge about Ukraine in the context of international politics, the war with Russia, etc. has increased. At the same time, little is known about Ukrainian culture. A limited number of people is aware of the existing knowledge about culture. The most well-known information is linked to the Maidan, the Holodomor, the Holocaust,” she says.
It is important for Americans to perceive information about Ukraine through the media and mass culture. Ukraine and its culture are most known in Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago. It was difficult for respondents to say what Ukraine is associated with. American society is very open to other cultures, so the main thing is to find the right messages that we will promote.
“We need to share our experience in combating disinformation and countering hybrid threats with the world and the United States,” says Serhii Plokhii, Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.
“It is extremely important to foster the image of Ukraine as a fighter, not as a victim, the content through which we can disseminate knowledge about Ukraine is movies, books, music, information products about what is happening in Ukraine,” adds Kathy Nalywajko, President of the Ukrainian Institute of America.