Anatolii Kutsevol, Ambassador of Ukraine to Latvia
Latvia Provides Maximum Possible Support to Ukraine in All its Endeavors
13.05.2024 20:41

A year ago, at the beginning of May 2023, Anatolii Kutsevol presented his credentials to the President of Latvia, after which he became fully empowerd to perform his duties as the Ambassador of Ukraine. One year seems not that much of time. But at times of war, it’s as if time condenses, so it seems that much more time has passed.

The calendar provides us a good opportunity to talk about the most significant events that took place during these busy twelve months, as well as about the plans for the future.


- Latvia, like all the Baltic states, is considered among the closest and most reliable allies of Ukraine. How much have you experienced this during your tenure?

- To a full degree. Latvia fully supports Ukraine in all its endeavors, being a true partner who fights side by side with Ukraine on various fronts, ranging from the cultural to diplomatic and up to the military front. Today, we have solid, consolidated interaction between all branches of government at all levels. A confirmation of this was seen during the past year... and also this calendar year 2024 where several bilateral visits took place.

- Yes, that’s true. We remember a visit in April by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and, of course, a visit by President Zelenskyi in January, and his high-profile press conference he gave in Riga.

- Regarding visits to Ukraine, I would like to recall the recent visit to Kyiv by the newly-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Baiba Braze, her first bilateral foreign visit. For the Baltic countries, for their leaders, it is traditional to visit their neighbors, Lithuania and Estonia. But perhaps we have become so close with all of the Baltic countries (for which we are very grateful) that they are now considering us as their immediate neighbors - even though we do not share a common border. Therefore, such a visit is an honor for us, and even more so as it was full of serious and ambitious discussions, which were reflected in a joint statement (made on May 4 – ed.) by the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the accession of these countries to the European Union. In this statement, Edgars Rinkēvičs, Gitanas Nauseda and Alar Karis noted that they would definitely like the negotiation process on Ukraine's accession to the European Union to start already in June.

- Regarding, by the way, President Rinkēvičs, who has been in the office for less than a year after more than ten years tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs… To what extent does this affect his activities in his new position?

- It's wonderful when, in hard times, some positions are occuplied by the individuals who are most suitable for those positions. For that matter, I would like to remind you that, on February 23, 2022, when Edgars Rinkēvičs was still serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was with us. So it was in Kyiv where he met the beginning of the Great War on the morning of February 24. So who, if not he, understands what is going on in Ukraine now? And who, if not he, has a deep knowledge of the context of international relations and how these relations have developed in the past 12 years? And also – what kind of discussions were evolving between Ukraine and Russia and who mediated in these processes...

Now the international arena is in dire need of such strong leaders who can speak about the present and the future with hindsight, who promised what, when, and to whom, how it looked like then and now, and why some tools suggested by someone can't work. Furthermore to this, nowadays it is worth listening to the leaders of those countries who know well what the yoke of the Soviet Union was like and what Russia, which is on the other side of the border, is like. Such leaders can contribute to global peace. Well, let me remind you once again that there is a very intensive dialogue evolving between the leaders of Ukraine and Latvia. So, this is only positive.


- Of the events that took place in Latvia recently, prepared with involvement of the embassy among others, the most important was probably the high-level conference "Russia's war against children", as well as a more private conference held as part of the Crimea Platform.

- First of all, I would like to recall the conference on the return of the Ukrainian children who are unlawfully detained and legalized (through the issue of new ID documents) as citizens of Russia and Belarus. The idea of holding such a conference came from an intention to make the world know more about that issue, to reveal this part of the war, the agressor’s barbaric policies aimed, as a matter of fact, at eliminating the Ukrainian nation. The question was how to arouse interest. So we had taken an unprecedented step of inviting the Ukrainian children who were previously detained in the territory of the Russian Federation. Yes, they have already undergone psychological rehabilitation. But our thought was: what matters most is to help these children feel that they are still children and need to develop further.

That conference was part of rehabilitation for those children. To this end, they had been invited to come in advance and take a relevant course, for which I am very grateful to the "Children's Hospital" foundation, which does this on an ongoing basis. The children were testifying and telling their stories. It was important for Latvia and the whole world to hear this immediately from those whose lives were tried to be stolen, whose closest relatives were abducted during shellings or through “filtration”. Living adults, parents of these children had been abducted, families separated...

At this conference, Latvia joined the international coalition for the return of Ukrainian children. Coordinated by Canada, in particular, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Jolie, the coalition now consists of many countries.

- What was the follow-up to that conference in Latvia?

- Now our key goal here in Latvia is to focus on opportunities and possibilities for psychological rehabilitation treatment within the country, how do we help children who are willing to come to Latvia. Of course, this is all anonymous, because it is about personal data, the life of each individual child. I would wish they would return to a normal life, so that they forget about their fears. At times they were recalling some things they hadn't said about before... It's hard to hear, but it also indicates a kind of positive dynamic. In the process of rehabilitation and in a safe environment, they reveal details that have been hidden under various layers of covers until now.

- This event seems to have had a significant personal dimension for you…

- I was gifted with a [traditional Ukrainian handmade doll] motanka. A boy made it while being in detention in Russia and not allowed to let go. Now a 17-year-old teenager, he is a fully conscious person who can say: "Let me go, because I don't want to be here." And what about small children?.. They didn’t let them return home, trying to "re-educate" them into Russians. This amounts to an abuse on them, a conscious intention to get the Ukrainian nation eliminated. I think that that conference was a significant step in making the world -- not only Europe, but also, say, South America and the Middle East -- know about this all.

- Are events of the same high level planned to be held in Latvia this year?

- Yes, and here we will move on to the Crimea Platform you’ve mentioned. Latvia has assumed the role of mediator, and it has already been agreed that a parliamentary summit of the Crimea Platform, the third such forum, will be held in Riga in October this year. The inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform at the parliamentary level took place in Croatia (in Zagreb in October 2022, - ed.), and the second - in the Czech Republic (in Prague in October 2023, - ed.). Latvia has now committed to host an event of such a high level. I would like to emphasize that exactly ten years after the annexation of Crimea, it is here, in Riga, where a broad discussion will be held about how to get Crimea returned and how to protect the rights of our citizens who live there.


- Please tell us about cooperation between Ukraine and Latvia in the military sphere, starting with training programs for Ukrainian soldiers.

- It true that our soldiers are undergoing training in Latvia - both general and specialized. In this area, there is a full-fledged cooperation going on at the level of the general staffs of both countries. I will share what I felt in communication. Among those who arrived, there are persons just beginning comprehensive military training. It is emotionally important for them to comprehend that they are in another country where they are being helped. They return to Ukraine with confidence that Ukraine has reliable partners. And it contributes to their morale...

And there are Ukrainians who come here already having a considerable military experience. There is a meaningful cooperation conducted with them at the level of the armed forces of Latvia and units of other NATO countries. In this case, reciprocal learning takes place, when each of the parties can share useful knowledge and skills.

- As regards military aid as such, it sometimes seems that Latvia has already given everything it had. But every time something is coming again.

- At the end of April, a new  aid package was announced, and it was so timely.  We are extremely grateful for air defenses, short-range systems, drones, electronic warfare equipment. Also, we never forget that Latvia has undertaken to coordinate a coalition of drones for Ukraine. This is, among other things, about military technology cooperation between Ukrainian and Latvian businesses. I think that over time we will see more media reports about Latvia transferring own-produced drones and defensive radar systems to Ukraine. There is also a growing coalition of 155-mm artillery shells. There are other areas of cooperation, but they cannot be revealed now for security reasons.

- Another important area of cooperation is in medical treatment and rehabilitation of Ukrainian warriors.

- We are grateful to Latvia for accepting our wounded soldiers for treatment and rehabilitation. The minimum target is to ensure that the number of soldiers sent for treatment is the same as it was previously. Meanwhile, there has been an greement reached, in particular, with the Minister of Health, that we are looking for opportunities to increase this number. We are currently discussing whether it’s possible for Latvia to accept 150-200 Ukrainian service members for treatment every year...

A separate topic is the training of Ukrainian doctors. Here they are getting familiarized with how the process is organized in Latvian clinics, in the first place, in the rehabilitation center "Vaivari". And then, using the acquired experience, they will work in Ukraine’s rehabilitation clinics, both already existing and newly established. In particular, there is an initiative to set up a new rehabilitation center in Chernihiv city (Latvia has undertaken a lead in aiding Chernihiv Oblast). We are also well aware of cases where Latvian surgeons go to Ukraine and work there. But they also invite Ukrainian surgeons, mostly military, to come and improve their qualifications in Latvia.

There is known another very interesting story related to this topic. There is a beautiful city of  Cesis, known to be a small cultural capital of Latvia. Well, there are wonderful people working there making very affordable prostheses, both for the military and for children. At the same time, they are making use of advanced technologies such as printing of prostheses tailored for a specific individual. Of course, these artificial limbs may be not as technological as highly sophisticated, expensive counterparts, but they can help rapidly cover some of the most urgent needs.

And that is why I mentioned wounded children in this context. After all, they grow quickly, so they need  frequent replacements of their prostheses. This technology allows this to be done quickly. This is being dealt with by a couple of wonderful young people, a guy and a girl from Ukraine. She was wounded in Mariupol and lost a limb. Then she underwent psychological rehabilitation in Latvia and now is working in a rehabilitation center.


- The enemy is meticulously trying to destroy Ukrainian infrastructures, primarily energy and heat supply. This is an issue where the military dimension is overlapping with the dimensions of economy and recovery and reconstruction.

- Ukrainian energy is currently one of the most painful topics, it has become a hostage to Russian aggression. Had it not been for the attacks on our energy system, Ukraine could have supported the whole of Europe based on transparent European rules. This is what Russians understand too well. By trying to destroy the Ukrainian energy infrastructure, they simultaneously strip the EU of the opportunity to have a spare component important for development. This is an international challenge in scope- protecting Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, first of all, by enhancing its air defense capabilities.

- But the topic of recovery and repair is no less important.

- Large companies "Latvenergo" and "Rīgas Siltums" (Riga’s number-one heat supplier, - ed.) are collecting their Soviet-style equipment and transferring it to Ukraine. There are also companies that sell equipment. Recently, there was a project where we have bought a lot of supplies for Chernihivblenergo, with funds Latvenergo earned on each new signed contract for heat and gas supply...

Now we are in the process of verifying lists of aid to the Ukrainian energy sector. After all, in Latvia, there are no thermal power plants that have been phased out of operation and could simply be dismounted and transported to another location. So we have to do a more detailed search for equipment and parts that can be sent to Ukraine for repair operations.

There are also innovative approaches applied at the community level, where private businesses generate heat from their emissions. And this heat, using advanced technologies, can be redirected to supply heat to small towns. This is how we are trying to create a new experience - decentralization. I think that, during the upcoming meeting of the 10th Ukrainian-Latvian Intergovernmental Economic Commission, set to take place in May, there will be a discussion between businesses and communities in Ukraine about what kind of technologies we could bring and install over a certain period of time so that our communities are self-sufficient.

That is to say, two years into the Great War, we have learned how to have our own generators, how to compensate for the lacking amount of light. But we still have to learn how to compensate for the lacking amount of heat supply so as not to depend on large boiler houses. In this case, unlike the centralized system of large thermal power plants, it will be difficult for the aggressor to search out and target a branched generation system. At the same time, it should be appreciated that this all is wartime generation in terms of ecology and efficiency. In the post-war period, we will rebuild Ukraine and its energy sector in particular, using the latest Western technologies.


- Geographically, Latvia occupies a middle position between the other two Baltic Sea countries. It is here where major  expos of various industries are held in the Baltic Sea region. Ukrainian businesses are known have the opportunity to get exhibition space there for free. How is it used, how effective is it?

- First of all, we must express our gratitude to our partners for the exhibiting opportunities they provide us. Well, it is axiomatic that such exhibitions allow enterprising people to go abroad and showcase their abilities to the international community.

Riga Food is a leading exhibition in the Baltics, and a large Ukrainian pavilion is always there, given that we are a potent agro-industrial producer. This, in addition to everything else, is a wonderful presentation of our history and culture, and of famous Ukrainian cuisine in particular. There is a wide assortment of produce exhibited here, ranging from traditional cereals to alcoholic beverages. I would like to make a separate mention of modern types of dried fruit and chips, which all are healthy eco foods.

It's nice that the Ukrainians are able to surprise everyone with their technology. The President of Latvia visited the Ukrainian Pavilion at the last edition of Riga Food, where he availed himself of an opportunity to talk to our strong people. They are mostly women who work seeking to promote Ukraine, our produce. And in this, too, one can find a certain symbolic parallel: how the Latvian president visited our soldiers, men undergoing treatment at Vaivara, and the way how he talked to our women at Riga Food.

- But there are many exhibitions of other industries…

- Yes, of course. For example, manufacturers of building materials and modern processing technologies operating in Ukraine showcased their products too. They offered potential buyers a very affordable price for high quality products. For that matter, I would like to point out one interesting aspect: at these exhibitions, a significant number of our entrepreneurs are looking, joint with Latvian entrepreneurs, to gain entrances to third markets.

- An interesting turn of the topic. Please elaborate on what it is about.

- Latvia, a sea facing country, has powerful seaport infrastructure. Businessmen who exhibit at these fairs have contacts in different parts of the world. They see much promise in what Ukrainian manufacturers and businessmen can offer in terms of export-viable products. So, it is possible to set up collaborations aimed to gain entrance to third markets, such as the Nordic countries, Norway, Sweden, which are in very close proximity across the sea, or other countries across the Atlantic, all the way to South America.

Such collaborations are being discussed continuously. This is relevant especially in the context of business development in Latvian seaports as they are redirecting their focus away from the old markets in Russia and Belarus. We must avail of the opportunity to extend and expand this corridor between Ukraine and Latvia and other Baltic Sea states with a long-term perspective in mind. This is what we were giving little focus to for a long time.

This is of importance for Ukraine, and not only in terms of revenues and taxes coming in to budget of the belligerent country. This is also one of the ways to integration into the EU. That being said, I can't help but mention a problem that affects this activity, which we have experienced for the last six months - the troubles autodrivers are facing while crossing the border with Poland. Long queues, risk of deadlines... This has had a serious negative effect on the situation, undermined the willingness of many to expand their businesses in this direction...

Ukrainian businesses, however, have never ceased searching for new patterns of cooperation. Take, for example, vegetable oil production, sunflower waste, oil cake, which is used as an additive to high-quality fodder. There is no competition on local niche markets for this product. Just the other way around, there is a shortage that Ukraine is ready and willing to make up for. That is why it should be done - for mutual benefit.


- Thank you for your meticulous analysis of the topic that is not that obvious to many. Indeed, a country that is strong militarily is in need of an equally strong economy. This is what everone must comprehend in full. One more significant resource that Ukraine can put to use is Diaspora, which has now grown in numbers due to the arrival of temporarily displaced persons, refugees.

- I will start with a few general considerations. It is important for all citizen staying abroad to take their part of responsibility in shaping the image of their country, their nation. This applies both to the long-standing Diaspora and to those newly arrived Ukrainians who were granted shelter during these more than two years.

Respecting and learning the Latvian language and Latvian culture, we must cherish what unites us, Ukrainians. It is language and culture, culture in all of its various manifestations, be it fine art or everyday things - customs, traditions, holidays, and, finally, the cuisine, which we’ve already mentioned. And this should not only be supported within one's family, one's community, but also showcased to the world around, so that it could see how interesting, rich, diverse our culture is.

The trouble was that, of the numerous Ukrainians living abroad, only insignificasnt number of them were engaged in community activities aimed at promoting Ukrainian culture. It looks like to me that a transformation is taking place in this reagard within the Ukrainian Diaspora aborad. This is a challenge that must be responded appropriately.

In Latvia, for example, there are long-standing organizations, but lots of new people are coming who do not yet know each other very well. Given this situation, there has arisen an idea of having a place where people could unify and know each other better. This is precisely about a place, not an organization, I emphasize.  With this in mind, we filed a request with the authorities of Riga and Latvia to allocate premises for what is now the Ukrainian House.

I will not talk long about legal aspects, registration etc. It took almost eight months. And now, since January, the Ukrainian House in Latvia has been there and operating in the central part of Riga. I emphasize it once again: this is not a cell of the Embassy, but, rather, a cell of Ukrainian citizens. The Embassy’s only responsibility was to help the Ukrainian community obtain premises for communication and activities. This is the space of the Ukrainian language, culture, and history, and of passing these on to future generations.

- The Embassy has recently invited Ukrainian organizations to take part in a brief opinion poll in order to establish and improve communication and to develop cooperation.

- As I’ve already said, a lot of new organizations have been set up in Latvia. It is therefore important to know about them, verify them in order to ensure that various useful information be shared as much as possible, including the information that empowers them to be present at the Ukrainian House. The idea is to show for the Ukrainians to see that they are united, not divided, that their initiatives will meet with support and responses. We are now planning meetings with all Ukrainian organizations registered in Latvia, and we want such meetings to be regular: on various topics, online and offline, in different cities - Daugavpils, Liepaja, Ventspils, Valmiera, etc. First - online, as it is not necessary to convene congresses of any kind. The issues that arise could be discussed without this need.


- Which of them are the most common?

- The most common requests are for consular services. There are big challenges in this area -- that more than four million citizens would exit Ukraine was impossible to predict. And they all will have to be provided with various services. Of course, there are not as many of our citizens in Latvia as in Poland or Germany, but their number is still significant. The management of the queue is complicated; it is a single common queue for all, and the queue list is made online. That being said, we always look at the categories of citizens with difficulties, those with many children and the elderly who cannot come by themselves. Just the day before, our consul visited such citizens at their homes to provide them with consular services they applied for. Perhaps not all of our citizens even know about such a possibility.  It’s important also in terms of information sharing, about which I was talking above. Sometimes one just needs to send a message to the Embassy or the Consular Department. I myself see many determined citizens every day who simply write to us that they need some kind of service, some kind of clarification. And they get all possible feedback over time.

- Now that we have touched upon that issue… I don't know if it’s appropriate to question you about the specifics of the consulate's work following the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ decisions dated April 23. After all, we are now awaiting additional explanations.

- I am ready to answer. I would like to emphasize that the decision to suspend the provision of consular services to men of conscription age, from 18 to 60 years old, is temporary. At the same time, we will process all the submissions filed by citizens in this category before April 23, and will issue all the documents requested .

Let me mention, in this regard, the launch of the personal online office for persons liable for compulsory military service, announced by our Ministry of Defense. It will be introduced soon, on May 18, when everyone will be able to submit their data. And, as already noted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, we will be happy to provide the full range of consular services to all citizens who have submitted their updated data. Citizens must understand that no one is running after or looking for them. We are only in favor of communication. We are working, seeking to provide support to our citizens staying abroad, instead of being kind of a punitive machine, about which misconceptions are being shared.

- Let's return to the broader issues facing the Ukrainian community in Latvia. There is a lot of women with children currently out here in Latvia. And so the issues of education, educational institutions are gaining in importance.

- Yes, children are growing up, they have to learn Ukrainian language, literature, history... I am very happy that a Ukrainian grade school has been there in Riga. But I see that, for the time being, its capacities are not sufficient to accommodate that increase in Ukrainian students. So we have a common idea of how, whom and where to request to set up a branch for this school. But it’s for the school management to announce this once a relevant agreement is in place. This will take time, not very long, but not so short either, as seen from the experience with the Ukrainian House. We are also working out options to set up a school affiliate of the International Ukrainian School. But in this case we still have to wait for relevant decisions to be made in Kyiv. In general, the educational area of our work is one of our priorities.

Oleh Kudrin, Riga

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