It is said that folk hero Dick Whittington was enticed to London by rumours that its streets were paved with gold, and in a similar vein Ukraine’s new Ambassador Her Excellency Natalia Galibarenko says that she has been impressed by the way in which the city offers so much opportunity for everyone. Galibarenko arrived with her husband and son just before Christmas and is still finding her feet, but she has already noticed the wealth of diversions available in the capital. “If you have different hobbies – perhaps the theatre – there are so many possibilities to keep yourself busy. Everybody can meet their own needs here.”
Galibarenko is the first person from her family to enter the diplomatic service. After graduating from the Institute of International Relations at Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, she worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Much of her career since then has concentrated on multilateral relations, particularly in the sphere of European integration. Galibarenko’s first foreign posting was to Brussels, where she worked for three years in Ukraine’s mission to the European Union. On returning to Kyiv, her work in the European arena continued with a position on the negotiating team for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU.
From here, Galibarenko shifted her professional course to work in Vienna for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. She describes this time, between 2012 and 2014, as a “key period for Ukraine, especially because it included our chairmanship,” as well as an important testing post for herself. Further challenges followed in the role of First Deputy Foreign Minister, an appointment that followed Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in February 2014, which led then President Viktor Yanukovych to flee abroad to Russia. Despite the manifest difficulties of the period, Galibarenko is proud of the achievements of the Foreign Ministry team with whom she worked.
“For two years, we were struggling in the sea of war, economic constraints and foreign policy challenges, but against a very hostile environment we made a good success of uniting the efforts of international partners in favour of Ukraine.” Galibarenko believes that these testing experiences will stand her in good stead for her role in London. “Through many international visits and interviews we were trying to explain what we are doing in reforming the country even against a background of war and other problems in Ukraine. We were effectively being educated while we were accomplishing our duties,” she says.
During her term as Ambassador in London, Galibarenko would like to put Ukraine’s cooperation with the UK on a more practical footing. “On the one hand we have already enlisted its staunch political support in issues like countering Russian aggression, on the annexation of Crimea, and on sanctions, but on the other there are still plenty of opportunities and possibilities for British companies to go to Ukraine to trade and invest. Of course business people are afraid of war, but my idea is to try to show a new picture, not only of Ukraine as a victim, but of Ukraine as a dynamic economy which is trying to reform itself.”
Galibarenko says that dealing with the situation in Crimea and in the east of the country, “where militants backed by Russia have been waging what they claim is a war for independence,” is undoubtedly Ukraine’s greatest political and diplomatic challenge. “Ensuring peace and ensuring stability is the main task for all diplomats, and my job is no different.” The war, she says, has turned everything on its head. Where once the country was a close ally of Russia, it has now aligned itself with the EU. Galibarenko describes the country’s Association Agreement with the bloc as the proudest moment of her career. “I remember the joy when my colleagues and I saw that it had been ratified, and I believe that in the years to come it will be the major instrument for European reforms in Ukraine.”
Galibarenko says that she that is fortunate in that her love of travelling coincides with her choice of diplomatic career. “Going abroad and meeting other people is both my profession and my hobby.” The only drawback, Galibarenko adds, is that sometimes the only view of the country she gets is through the window of her car, as she heads from one meeting to another.