Ukraine’s performance in the Global Soft Power Index 2021 is stable, with an overall Index score of 31.9 out of 100, up 0.2 points year-on-year. However, due to the expansion of the Index and improved relative performances of the other nations, Ukraine has dropped 15 spots, ranking 61st overall.
The general public perceives Ukraine as a nation with friendly and trustworthy people, a strong educational system, and open to international business and trade. Over the course of a year, Ukraine’s Overall Influence has marginally improved, up 0.1-points, ranking 45th in this metric. A similar trend is observed among most of the Eastern European and post-USSR nations, with Russia being the only exception, dropping 0.1-points in this metric.
In addition to an improved Overall Influence score, the nation’s performance on the Education & Science pillar has also increased, with Ukraine’s strong educational system being one of the main drivers behind this improvement. For many years, Ukraine has been a go-to destination for students from all over the world, from countries including Iran, India, and Morocco.
From an economic perspective, Ukraine keeps improving its identity as a nation open to international business and trade. The nation ranks well within the top half for its future growth potential and recent legislative reforms in the areas of land and finance are the key markers of readiness to realise this potential. There is space for improvement, however, with the nation perceived as less easy to do business with than last year. This correlates with the view of security and leadership in the country, given the current political and global environment.
Overall, Ukraine has managed to rank significantly above other post-Soviet nations in the Index – including Azerbaijan (72nd), Kazakhstan (75th) and Uzbekistan (81st) – but there is still a considerable amount that needs doing in the areas of Governance and International Relations to ensure that the nation is a leader in the Eastern European bloc.
Interview with Volodymir Sheiko
COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for the world of culture. How have you adapted your programme to showcase Ukrainian culture in a socially distanced world?
On top of cancellation or postponement of most projects, the Ukrainian Institute, like other cultural organisations in Ukraine, has also faced increased pressure to deliver its programme within the remainder of the fiscal year, and multiple instances of re-planning in response to changing travel and lockdown restrictions in other countries.
The most evident challenge for us was a lack of personal contact and direct engagement with people in other countries, which is crucial for cultural diplomacy. To address this challenge, we transferred many offline events (in film, literature, theatre and music) into online or hybrid offline-online formats.
For example, our music showcase at Waves Vienna was produced, filmed, edited, and streamed from Kyiv to an international audience of 60,000 people. We supported the online participation of Ukrainian filmmakers and producers at the industry events of the Cannes Film Festival. Our theatre programme combined ‘theatre-in-cinema' formats with outdoor immersive performances. By amplifying projects digitally, as well as launching digital-only formats (a MOOC course about Ukraine, viral video explainers and VR project) we reached much wider audiences both in Ukraine and abroad.
We took care to ensure the safety of our team, digitise paperwork where possible, and improve partnership and risk management processes. Maintaining a safe, productive and reliable working environment for the team, with internal communications remaining a priority.
Ukrainian culture is well-known in Europe and North America, but perhaps less so in other parts of the world. Is it more important to focus on audiences already familiar with you, or on introducing what Ukraine has to offer to new ones?
In the past year, we conducted a series of surveys about perceptions of Ukraine among professional audiences in France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, USA, Turkey and Japan. Our initial observation is that Ukrainian cultural phenomena are not very well-known in most of these countries, and our respondents’ knowledge about Ukraine has been defined by the nature of their personal Ukraine-related work experience.
Ukrainian culture is still far from being general knowledge among the public in Europe and North America, and we still have a lot of work to do to spread this knowledge and to re-appropriate our cultural heritage associated with other countries. I believe we need to work with both niche and wider audiences, including those who do not know Ukraine much, those who do and have a positive attitude, and those who have a negative attitude or are driven by stereotypes.
We must maintain connections with loyal audiences, offer positive narratives to those who perceive Ukraine negatively and introduce neutral audiences to the Ukrainian context by offering them unbiased and diverse information.
With such a variety of projects and campaigns developed in just a few years since the foundation of the Ukrainian Institute, but also significant tasks ahead of you, what are you most proud of and what is your main goal for the next 5 years?
We have developed a five-year strategy that gives us a clear pathway aligned to the foreign policy priorities of Ukraine. In just two years, the Ukrainian Institute implemented over 170 projects and events in 14 countries. In 2019, the Institute and the Ukrainian Embassy in Vienna co-organised the Bilateral Cultural Year Austria-Ukraine.
In a very short time, we created a new institution from scratch and brought together a highly professional and motivated team of experts. Through our work, the Institute and its partners raised the public profile of cultural diplomacy in Ukraine as a factor of national security and foreign policy.
For the next five years, our goals include expanding the Institute’s activities to new regions and countries, opening at least three international offices, and diversifying our funding and partnership network. Hopefully, this will help Ukraine move up in the Global Soft Power Index in the years to come.