On January 29 ForUm held an online conference with ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Great Britain to Ukraine Simon Smith.

In the course of communication with ForUm's readers, the ambassador told about his impressions of Ukraine and about Ukraine's future in the European Union. Simon Smith takes interest in Ukrainian music and museums and often takes Kyiv metro.

Here is the text of the conference:

Vasyl, Ismail city: Good day, Mr. Ambassador. Though you have not stayed in Ukraine for a long time, what are your personal impressions of Ukraine, its people and culture? How do you estimate current realities in Ukraine? What would you recommend us in times of need? The majority of Ukrainians stand for European integration (we've been with Russia for 300 years and we know what to expect in case of 'reunion'). What can Ukraine expect from Britain regarding the eurointegration?

- Good day. I arrived in Ukraine in September of 2012. My impressions are positive so far. I have an impression to live among frank people who freely express their opinions, are enthusiasts about a lot of things and want their country to realise its full potential. Ukraine is a very interesting country and I am lucky  to work here. My only complaint at the moment is that when I visit museums, I have an impression that museum staff are not very welcoming to the visitors.

As for European integration, the UK government supports and welcomes Ukraine's future in the European Union. We are convinced that the prospects of the EU membership can help stimulate necessary political and economic reforms, which in turn will provide guarantees for security and prosperity in the future.

Volodymyr: Who or what can impede Ukraine to follow the course of European integration?

- After all, it is an issue for the Ukrainian people and politicians they elect. If your decision-makers adopt and implement reforms required for the EU membership, I believe nobody and nothing can impede Ukraine’s progress.

Viktor: Good day, Mr. Ambassador. According to mass media, Great Britain may withdraw from the EU membership. Thus, is there a point for Ukraine to try to obtain this membership? Maybe the Customs Union would be more beneficial... WTO membership, for example, has not given much to Ukraine's economy.

- Of course, it would be wiser to move closer to the EU. As Ukraine tries to develop its potential, for example, in the agriculture and energy sectors, it will achieve much more progress if it has access to the EU single market as well as the European institutions, standards and rules. For over 60 years of its existence the European Union has guaranteed security and peace for many independent and sovereign states on the European continent. This is a success story.

Tetyana Laryna: What do think about Premier Cameron's statement on holding a referendum on withdrawal from EU membership? What results can be expected?

- Mr Cameron made very clear that he had never said  Britain would turn its back on Europe. His speech was about change in the European Union which will make it stronger and better. I am confident that if the British people have accurate information, then they will decide in favour of the benefits that the EU membership entails.

Pavlo: Why is it so difficult to get a British visa? You let in ignorant citizens of the Middle East, who bring conflicts and chaos, but you reject normal qualified workers.  

- According to the latest available statistics, 91% of Ukrainians who applied for a British visa successfully obtained it. It is always important to follow the procedure and instructions of the visa application process. I agree that sometimes it may seem a bit complicated. If you follow all the requirements of the visa application process, including providing sufficient supporting documents, then the statistics shows that there are no substantial obstacles to get a UK visa.  

Yuri: What do you think about nationalist party "Freedom" in Ukrainian parliament? Your personal opinion, please.

- "Freedom" (Svoboda) is one of many parties represented in Parliament following the choices made by millions of the Ukrainians at the last year’s parliamentary elections. As any other party of any other parliament in the world, it has a responsibility to behave in a civilized and constructive manner. 

Fanat: Were you in Ukraine during Euro-2012? Do you think Ukraine succeeded in holding the championship at proper level? Do you like football? What team do you support?

- Unfortunately, I missed Euro-2012 in Ukraine, as I was not in Ukraine at that time. However, I heard many of my compatriots who visited the tournament saying that it went down in a very positive atmosphere and they came back home with very good impressions. I do like football, and I even play sometimes. I support not a very popular team of a second echelon in Britain, which is Bristol City FC.
Serhiy, Kyiv, 43, IT specialist: Good day. Why do EU countries, including Great Britain, support in Syria tha kind of people, which both France and Britain kill in Mali?

- Britain, as many other partners in the EU, is ready to use all possible options to minimise the impact of a crisis on the lives of the citizens of any country.

Anton, a doctor: In December Ukraine became a non-smoking country. How does Great Britain fight this bad habit?

- At first, some  expressed that a ban on smoking in public places would infringe upon citizen's liberties. However, now the majority of British people support anti-smoking legislation, which helps to make the nation healthier. In my opinion, this law has improved atmosphere, for example, in pubs and restaurants, in every sense of this word.    

Andriy: Good day. What is your opinion on usage of alternative energy in the EU?

- Climate change is one of the biggest risks for the future of our civilization. I believe, and this is what the UK government believes, that if we do not develop  alternative energy sources, we will increase the risk of serious  negative economic impact on the future generations. For this reason, investing into renewable energy and further research into alternative energy sources are absolutely essential.

Ludmyla: Mr. Ambassador, why do Europe and US interfere with internal affairs of Ukraine and apply double standards? Why do they offer credits, which are destroying the country? Are there cases of German prisoners being treated by Ukrainian doctors? Why does Europe defend the criminal?

- We live in a globalised and interconnected world. And in this context, it is natural  that we discuss problems, share our concerns and try to find a common solution.

Evhen: What do you think about oppression of human rights in Ukraine? How can we fight it?

- Ukraine and the UK, as well as all other countries which signed and ratified the UN Convention on Human Rights share responsibility for protecting human rights. And we need to continue the dialogue on how we can protect these rights in the most effective way. This year’s presidency of Ukraine in the OSCE is a good opportunity to make a difference in terms of strengthening the protection of human rights. In this respect, we hope for a close partnership with Ukraine this year.

Vadym: Cannot Great Britain do something to protect Yulia Tymoshenko from tortures in prison?

- First of all, we are keen to ensure that the rights of all prisoners to civilised treatment are protected  anywhere in the world. The issue of selective  justice in Ukraine remains a subject of concern for the UK and other European Union partners. The UK government fully supports the conclusions of the meeting of the EU foreign ministers, which took place in December last year, on the situation with selective justice in Ukraine. I am sure that this issue will be on the agenda of the visit by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle who will come to Kyiv next week.

Olena: I am a student of one of the Kyiv universities, and I take interest in education abroad, including Great Britain. Why are there such a small number of grants given to Ukrainian students?

- Resources and financial possibilities are always limited. However, over 2.5 thousand Ukrainian students come to study in the UK every year. There are a number of opportunities to obtain a scholarship, but competition is tough. I wish you the best of luck in your attempts to achieve your goals.

Levchenko, reader: Good day, Mr. Smith. My daughter studies in London and says that many of her classmates discuss the possibilities of war between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Do you think the war may happen?

- I don't think there is a risk of war. Britain intends to maintain constructive and successful relations with all countries, including Argentina. However, we believe that the future of the Falkland Islands is solely down to the choices of the local citizens.

Anna: Good day, Mr. Amvassador. I am a citizen of Russia and I wonder why the relations between Britain and Russia are so complicated. Russian spies-traitors and wanted oligarchs often find refuge in UK and your authorities do nothing. Why cannot Russian and British authorities find common points?

- Russia and the UK have an extensive  programme of cooperation and common interests, for example, we have substantial commercial ties and there are a lot of examples of that As a former UK government representative at the international organisations based in Vienna, including IAEA,  I enjoyed a constructive and close relationship with all my Russian colleagues and we worked together on a range of issues of international importance.

Valentyna, Odessa region: Is it true that British farmers demand the government to implement a visa program for Ukrainian workers. They say you lack workers for picking fruit.

- I don't have information about such requests from the British farmers.

Vlad: Once you said you would like to play with a Ukrainian band. Did you? What other bands, apart from "Elsa's ocean", you like?

- No, not yet. I am still exploring Ukrainian music.

Ninochka: Do you take Kyiv metro often, as your predecessor did?

- I do, regularly :)

Natalia, 19: English humour is very specific. Do you understand our jokes and? Do you watch Ukrainian comedy shows like "Big difference" or "Evening Kyiv"? What English comedians do you like the most?

- You are right, every nation has a specific sense of humour, and my task is to learn to understand local humour. Thanks for your recommendations on Ukrainian comedy shows. As for the last question, I am a big fan of two comedy shows in Britain. The first one is called "Outnumbered", a comedy about a family where there is lots of argument and chaos, like in mine). The second show is "The Thick of it", a televised comedy series, similar to “Yes, Minister!”. I also have to confess that I like Mr Bean.

Simon Smith

Thanks for all your questions. It’s a pity that time is limited and I could not answer all the questions. But I promise to read and think about all of your questions, as they will help me understand what the Ukrainian people think about Britain, what they like and dislike about my country. But to understand a country, you should visit it. I hope that as many of you as possible will have an opportunity to visit the UK in the near future.


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