In a conversation with H.E. Oleh Herasymenko, the ambassador of Ukraine in Montenegro, we inquired about the current state of relations between these two countries and discussed the future cooperation prospects. Ambassador Herasymenko shared his opinion on the role of Ukrainians in Montenegrin society, trade, culture, and education, as well as Montenegro’s progress on the way to EU membership. He also highlighted specific projects and initiatives that could improve cooperation between these two countries.
Can you tell us more about the current state of relations between Ukraine and Montenegro and how you see the prospects for future cooperation between the two countries?
I want to emphasize that the relations between Ukraine and Montenegro are very good now. They are currently experiencing a rise, which is, of course, the result of the clear and unambiguous political position of our countries. Among the events that contribute to such a positive trend, the meeting of the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with the President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović in Athens on August 22 this year should be mentioned, as well as the visit of the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazović to Ukraine in June last year, and the signing by Dritan Abazović on May 17, 2023. Declarations in support of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on the Register of Damage Caused by the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the resolution of the Parliament of Montenegro on the condemnation of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine adopted on July 27, 2022, and also the dynamic development of Ukrainian-Montenegrin cooperation in many areas of mutual interest. Montenegro also recently joined the G7 declaration of support for Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine gladly expects support from Montenegro to implement President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula. A great move to strengthen our bilateral relations would be the visit of the President of Montenegro to Ukraine, which we are currently working on.
An immense role in strengthening our relations was played by the sincere support to Ukraine by both the State of Montenegro and its citizens upon the inception of Russia’s all-out armed invasion of Ukraine. For example, in 2022, Montenegro, regardless of its limited capacities, allocated up to 11% of its military budget for military technical assistance to Ukraine.
Finally, Montenegro continuously supports Ukraine on all international platforms. It contributes to the consolidation of the international community around Ukraine and its struggle for independence, freedom, and democratic values.
Ukraine highly values all its friends who have helped in these difficult times. And Montenegro is such a friend. That is to be remembered. I am convinced that our relations will continue to develop in a positive direction for many reasons.
Montenegro is home to many Ukrainians. How would you describe their role and contribution to Montenegrin society?
Due to Russian aggression against Ukraine, millions of our citizens were forced to seek peaceful refuge in various European countries. And this is not accidental. You are probably familiar with the UN and OSCE reports on the terrible crimes committed by the Russian occupiers in Ukraine. The last such report was published in September. One of the countries that received Ukrainians the best was Montenegro. At a particular moment, at the end of the summer of 2022, speaking in percentages, Montenegro had the most Ukrainian citizens among all European countries. Of course, this is not about labor migration, as it was trouble that forced these Ukrainians to come to your hospitable and peaceful country, otherwise known to our people for a long time.
Ukrainians have made and continue to make a constructive contribution to the development of Montenegro in various aspects. First of all, many of our citizens who came here are trained personnel and quality experts, and many of them brought with them their savings, which they spent on the Montenegrin market using the treasures of your country. These people generally represent a serious professional and a financial resource.
Due to the cultural and linguistic closeness with Montenegrins, Ukrainians find their way into your country quite quickly and do not feel any significant cultural and mental barriers. Many Ukrainian citizens have already returned home. From our point of view, the active return of Ukrainians to their homeland is a very positive tendency. At the same time, these people brought back very warm memories of Montenegro, of the warm welcome from your people, of Montenegrin hospitality. It contributes to the good image of your country in our society and to the general improvement of Ukrainian-Montenegrin relations.
Based on the latest official statistics of the Ministry of Interior of Montenegro, in your country, more than 4 thousand citizens of Ukraine have confirmed their status of temporary protection. Furthermore, as we know, a little more than 2.4 thousand Ukrainian citizens have a permit for temporary or permanent residence in Montenegro. They do not encounter any serious problems. And when such issues appear, our community and the Embassy turn to local or central government authorities for help. We have a good understanding of all Montenegrin institutions, and we successfully cooperate with them. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my special gratitude to the Ministry of Education of Montenegro for their excellent work in adapting Ukrainian children to the Montenegrin educational process, the majority of whom were under severe stress due to the war. We are also very grateful to UNICEF for maximum cooperation in this matter.
The first officially registered Ukrainian organization – the Ukraine “Good Deed” Association – has been operating in Montenegro since spring 2022. The Embassy of Ukraine cooperates quite fruitfully with the Ukrainian community. Through joint efforts, we opened Ukrainian centers in Podgorica, Budva, Herceg-Novi, and Bar, which are actively engaged in humanitarian, socio-cultural, and educational activities.
Can you share your opinion on cooperation between Ukraine and Montenegro in areas such as trade, culture, and education? Are there any projects or initiatives that you would particularly highlight? How do you see the future of diplomatic, political, and economic cooperation between Ukraine and Montenegro, and what concrete steps could be taken to strengthen those relations?
Even in this difficult time of war, Montenegro remains a reliable trade partner for Ukraine. The drastic increase in the volume of our trade in goods clearly evidences it. During January-August 2023, the growth of merchandise turnover was 29.16% compared to the same period last year.
Additionally, it is a prosperous moment for Ukrainian food products and cereals to come to the Montenegrin market. It would be a beneficial move for the implementation of the government’s price control program and for replenishing Montenegrin’s strategic stocks. Ukrainian agricultural production is of high quality, exported to the EU, adhering to all European standards. Therefore, the Montenegrin market is very appealing.
We have achieved many successes during the last few years in the cultural sphere. We held a great cultural and artistic manifestation of humanitarian character, “Days of Ukraine in Montenegro,” in Cetinje, on 25 – 26 June 2022. It was the biggest-ever Ukrainian festival in Montenegro, which attracted a lot of attention both from the local Ukrainian community and from the citizens of Montenegro, who had the opportunity to get to know Ukrainian culture, traditions, and cuisine much more closely.
I could list many more cultural and artistic events that we have realized in cooperation with the Ukrainian community during 2022-2023. Among the most recent, I would like to mention the festival of children’s talents, “Kyiv Wave,” held this year in Petrovac on October 3 – 5, and actions of gratitude of the Embassy of Ukraine and the Ukrainian community to Bar (August) and Podgorica (October) through tree planting. Of course, we regularly mark the most important dates for Ukraine (such as Independence Day) with large marches in Podgorica.
And a special place in our hearts holds the Montenegrin Historical Capital of Cetinje, whose residents have regular pro-Ukrainian walks, which used to be on a daily basis. It is unprecedented in all of Europe.
We are grateful to all our partners who have helped many times with the realization of summer holidays for Ukrainian children in Montenegro. One of the latest examples is that the Capital City of Podgorica organized a vacation for a group of children from Ukraine in Sutomore.
And let me come back to political topics again: mutual support and exchange of experiences in the context of European and Euro-Atlantic integration is vital for both our countries, as the common European path is what firmly unites Ukraine and Montenegro. Our countries are part of the same European democratic family of nations.
Montenegro is on the way to EU membership. How do you see Montenegro’s progress on that path, and what could be essential to successful EU accession?
First of all, I will emphasize that Ukraine wants the maximum and fastest possible success for Montenegro on the path of its European integration. Among all the candidates for EU membership, there is no country closer to that goal than Montenegro. EU requirements have a more practical or technical character. Currently, there are no other conditions or requirements from the EU which could become a severe obstacle. In the political sense, the EU has already made up its mind a long time ago – Montenegro’s place is in the European Union. As we well know, Montenegro has already fully harmonized its foreign policy with the common positions of the EU, including the position towards the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine. And we really appreciate this fact.
Montenegro’s success on the European path would become a great example and inspiration for many other countries in the region and beyond that want to join the European Union. It, of course, also concerns my native country – Ukraine. But the key thing is that we clearly see that there is a political will of the President of Montenegro, the Montenegrin Government, and the majority of the political forces and society of your country to move in that direction towards that strategic goal. And to go as fast as possible. I am confident that Montenegro can successfully fulfill all these tasks. Montenegro has the full and most sincere support of Ukraine on this path.
Please mention any specific projects or initiatives that could enhance cooperation between the two countries, especially in areas of mutual interest.
It is quite a broad question, and I have already partially answered it above.
Unfortunately, it is clear that due to the war, Ukraine is temporarily limited in its ability to implement many bilateral initiatives and projects. But war is not an excuse for passivity. In fact, we have a whole spectrum of ideas, the realization of which would be of great interest and benefit to both Ukraine and Montenegro.
First of all, the experience of Montenegro joining NATO and adapting to Euro-Atlantic standards is very interesting for Ukraine. Of course, our countries are very different territorially, and the situation in which Ukraine is now is drastically different from the situation in Montenegro in 2016-2017. But certain aspects of your experience of joining the Alliance are really relevant to us.
Since there are a lot of Ukrainians in Montenegro, you should make an effort to promote the Ukrainian language and culture in your country. We have already started a constructive dialogue in that direction with a number of Montenegrin educational institutions. For example, we are working on connecting the National Library of Montenegro “Đurđe Crnojević” with a number of reputable Ukrainian libraries. The plan is to start a program for studying the Ukrainian language at one of the Montenegrin faculties.
We certainly plan to strengthen business ties between Ukrainian and Montenegrin businesses. For us, the key thing is to firmly establish a positive image of Ukraine and Ukrainians in Montenegro as close and friendly people with whom one can successfully cooperate in numerous spheres.
Of course, after the end of the current war, the dynamics and scope of Montenegrin-Ukrainian cooperation, especially the economic one, will become very active. The key to excellent and reliable business relationships is trust and mutual respect on a human level. And we work on it every day.
Once again, I wanted to thank the friendly Montenegrin people and wish them peace, harmony, and prosperity.
Montenegro has already fully harmonized its foreign policy with the common positions of the EU, including the position towards the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine. And we really appreciate this fact.