Natalia Shevchenko, the wife of the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine Volodymyr Khandohiy, has informed the FD about the peculiarities of the diplomatic protocol at the monarchical courts of Europe, about “cultural diplomacy” and about the new directions of the activity of the female elite club “Lady International Club”.
“UKRAINIAN CULTURE AND UKRAINIAN ART ARE IN DEMAND AND OF INTEREST IN MANY COUNTRIES OF EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA.”
Your husband and you had visited a lot of countries. Which of them have you remembered the best? And why?
– The first country in which I had to be with my husband abroad was the United States of America. We arrived in New York in the late 70’s – during the Soviet times. You can imagine what shock it was for us and how many new impressions we received. And later, I visited Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom, where my husband worked as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine. I can note that there is a difference between continental Europe and the British Isles. Both Brussels and London are wonderful cities, but they are not at all alike. Each of these cities, their charm, their special atmosphere can be talked about for a very long time. But as for me, nevertheless, the most and most remarkably remembered is New York – like the first love…
For quite a long time you have lived in the UK and Belgium. What is the difference between Royal protocol in the UK and in Belgium?
– The Royal Protocol in Belgium is younger and more democratic comparing to the British one, which has centuries-old traditions and history. Also, in Belgium it is much easier to get to the royal palace. In the summer, it is generally opened for tourists. The British royal court has rather complicated diplomatic protocol that deals with the communication of foreign diplomats with Her Majesty. At the Buckingham Palace, the residence of British monarchs, at the end of the year the diplomatic reception for the heads of diplomatic missions is realizied. All the ambassadors are gathered in the halls. Queen Elizabeth enters the hall and congratulates every ambassador and his wife personally.
Ambassadors and their wives are allowed to talk with Her Majesty. In Belgium, the ceremony is quite different: the King and the Queen stand in the hall, and the Ambassadors come to them and congratulate them in turn. In the UK there is a special position – the marshal of the royal court. His duties include the preparation of foreign ambassadors to meet the Queen and this preparation is very careful. At the initiative of the Ambassador of Ukraine and with the assistance of the marshal of the royal court of Elizabeth II during the ceremony of giving credentials had received a gift from the Ambassador of Ukraine – a wooden pysanka decorated with her coronation portrait. The following day, the front pages of the British newspapers depicted this true work of art. As you know, according to the Royal protocol Queen almost never takes gifts. So it was a great honour for Ukraine. I had to go to the Buckingham Palace, and during the ceremony of giving credentials and during the annual receptions, and it was very pleasant that the Queen paid attention to us, constantly asking what was happening in Ukraine.
Wives of the Ambassadors are known to be engaged in cultural diplomacy and charity by attending women’s clubs. Did you take part in the work of such clubs and how are their sessions held?
– There are several such association clubs in London, they all combine female diplomats and ambassadors’ wives. What’s true is that the sessions take place not only in clubs, but in London it is customary to be invited at home. The program of the sessions included mostly artistic events and fashion shows. In Canada, there is also a similar club. At one of his meetings, which took place in the territory of the US Embassy, the wives of ambassadors were taught Indian skiing. It was, as for me, one of the most interesting and most nonstandard meetings that I had to attend.
Did you take part in the cultural events that Ukrainian embassies realizied?
– Of course. I especially would like to mention the Days of Ukraine in London, which took place in October, 2013. The organizers of this large-scale event were representatives of Ukrainian business circles. I must emphasize that, without the assistance of the Ukrainian Embassy in the UK, it was simply impossible to hold this event aimed at promoting of our country and our culture in the UK at such high level. Also, every year on the occasion of the Independence Day of Ukraine we held not only a solemn reception at the embassy, but also concerts and art exhibitions.
For example, in the “European House” in London, we had an exhibition of works by the Ukrainian artist Matvii Weisberg entitled “The Wall” that was devoted to the tragic events of EuroMaidan. At the Trenton College of Cambridge University, with the assistance of our Embassy in the UK, a meeting between the famous Ukrainian writer Andriy Kurkov and the teachers and students of this institution was held. I can say that Ukrainian art and Ukrainian culture are in demand and cause lively interest in the countries of Europe and North America.
Of course, interest in Ukraine has increased and intensified after the events of 2014 and unfortunately due to sad circumstances.
How would you define such a concept as “cultural diplomacy”?
– Cultural diplomacy is an exchange of arts between the countries. This is a very multilevel, complex and productive process that has been developing nowadays very actively and powerfully in our country. Culture and art are able to construct the bridges between peoples and states, to give impetus to economic cooperation and, even, to prevent conflicts. I would define cultural diplomacy as an elegant tandem of politics and fi ne arts, such as the exchange of ideas, values and beliefs. The main purpose of this tandem is to seek out mutual understanding between people.
Be so kind and inform us about the Ukrainian female elite club Lady International Club that restarts its activity after the break, since you had been the vice-president of this club?
– In 2007, when the idea to create a similar club appeared, this was somewhat unusual for our country and attracted a lot of interest.
The organizers of the club were the wives of the Ambassadors, first of all – Irina Reznyk. She is the president of the club and I was a vicepresident, as you have mentioned. Immediately, our club gained great popularity. It was popular mainly among the wives of foreign ambassadors accredited in Ukraine. Also, the women-ambassadors attended the club. At that time there were two of them in Ukraine, the Ambassador of Israel and the Ambassador of Argentine. In addition to the female ambassadors and the wives of the ambassadors, the wives of ministers of foreign affairs of Ukraine came to us, in particular the wife of Anatoly Zlenko, the First Minister of Foreign Affairs of the independent Ukraine. We are happy to meet interesting people, first of all the representatives of art community. Despite the official character of our club, the majority of the sessions were informal and indisputable ones.
Which charitable projects were realizied by the club?
– We took care of an orphanage in the Chernobyl zone. In particular, we arranged a trip to the cinema for the children of this orphanage, since none of them had ever been to the cinema. We bought clothes and sweets for them. In addition, our club helped the artistic galleries, arranging exhibitions there and inviting influential people that are interested in art.
Which activities and charitable projects do you plan to implement in the renovated Lady International Club?
– At the moment there are many new and interesting people in the club, of course there are many new and interesting plans. The club’s program, sessions and charitable activities are still under development. But for example, I can point out that we are considering a new direction for charity – assistance to the Ukrainian militaries. I am referring to the assistance to those who have suffered during the fighting in the East of Ukraine.
For humanitarian assistance to these people, we plan to involve representatives of foreign embassies and big business.
Also, one should not forget that the club is a platform for informal communication of representatives of the diplomatic corps. In addition, women-ambassadors in Ukraine now work much more than in 2007. The main goal of the club was, is and will be the popularization of Ukraine.