Ukrainian ambassador reveals himself to be durian aficionado

KUALA LUMPUR: When Ukrainian ambassador Olexander Nechytaylo (pic) tells people, especially his colleagues or fellow ambassadors, of his love for durians, they are taken aback.

Many, especially foreigners, find the smell of durian off-putting but not Nechytaylo, who can even tell the different varieties of the fruit.

"I don't like Musang King. My favourite is XO. Very often when it's in season, I eat at the night stalls in the Ampang area. It mostly comes from Pahang," he said in an interview with The Star Online at his office.

This is Nechytaylo's second stint in Malaysia. He was here from 2005 to 2009, when he was a counsellor in the embassy. It was during this time that he learned to love the King of Fruits.

"My friends told me that since it's very 'heaty' so when you eat a lot of it, make sure you consume some soda to cool down," said Nechytaylo whose ambassadorial duties started in July last year.

But the durian is just one of many reasons Nechytalo admires Malaysia.

He also admires the country's diversity, peace and its strong economic foundations.

Taking into account Ukraine's own experience of a war in the eastern part of the country and the Russian invasion of Crimea, Nechytaylo says Malaysians should fully appreciate their nation's stability.

"I would also tell Malaysians that as people, they should not be complacent. You see our country had always been peaceful, never invaded anyone and we always took things for granted. But then when the bad times came, we realised that some things like national harmony and peace are foundational and should be appreciated," he said.

The only silver lining from the trouble with their neighbours is that it pushed Ukrainian businesses out of their comfort zone as Russia was a natural market for them, said Nechytaylo.

Malaysia is one of the markets Ukraine has been eyeing, following a high-level delegation led by President Petro Poroshenko who visited Malaysia in August last year.

Friday marks 25 years of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Ukraine. And Nechytaylo hopes to take the ties further, expanding trade and business between both countries.

In 2015, trade between both countries was valued at about US$300mil (RM1.334bil).

Malaysia imports sunflower oil, wheat, corn and agricultural products from Ukraine and exports palm oil to the central European nation.

Nechytaylo, however, hopes to move from commodities as the market is volatile and towards sectors that can create jobs.

He said that there are at least two Ukrainian software development companies that have opened offices here.

"They look at Malaysia as a base to penetrate Asean and beyond. They are comfortable with the facilities and the professional skills while the operational costs are cheaper than some neighbouring countries.

"More and more Ukrainians look at Malaysia as a potential market," he said, adding that he hoped for more collaboration between institutes of higher education in both countries.

Another area that Nechytaylo is looking into is tourism, saying that Ukraine has a lot to offer to Malaysians.

He added that Malaysia was a well-known destination for Ukrainians, with about 11,000 visitors from the country in 2015.

On the international stage, Nechytaylo said that both countries had worked on several issues together, citing the example of the United Nations security council resolution concerning Israeli settlements in Palestine last year.

Both countries voted for the resolution, which was passed by a 14-0 vote by members of the council.

There was also the matter of the downing of flight MH17 in July 2014 over Eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board.

"MH17 was one of those times that helped make our partnership much stronger and closer.

"We really appreciate the position of the Malaysian government working closely with us and other members of the joint investigation team on finding out what actually happened," said Netchytaylo, adding that Ukraine considered it an obligation to the families of the victims for justice to be served.

He said that the partnership between both countries has been fruitful and important in both good and challenging times.

"I believe that this foundation was laid by the previous generations of leaders. It will be a good starting point to strengthen the relationship of both countries. Countries like Ukraine and Malaysia are not superpowers. We have to make sure we stick together," he said.