It is a testament to how far Ukraine has come that its budding filmmakers have turned the 1986 Chernobyl disaster into one of HBO’s most acclaimed television series.
Ukraine’s blossoming film industry was one of several topics discussed at Ukraine House Toronto last week, where there was a palpable sense that the nation has passed a tipping point and is finally emerging as a modern, dynamic, Western-style democracy with much to contribute to the world.
In fact, it was Darko Skulsky, one of the co-producers of the hit series, who captured the spirit in an interview at Ukraine House Toronto when he said, “Ukraine is having this renaissance, a boom; the closest thing I can compare it to is Berlin seventeen years ago, where the kids are just taking over.”
This neatly sums up our approach to Ukraine House Toronto, a non-profit consortium that brought together Ukrainian business, government, civil society, and the diaspora, as well as foreign investors, for two days of thought leadership, fashion, culture, and networking.
Against the backdrop of hostile propaganda from Moscow, which continues to wage information war against Ukraine alongside its military attacks, Ukraine House Toronto is helping to get the true story out.
Featured were a catwalk by Ukraine Fashion Week, music by B&B Project and Alina Pash, a live TV studio, twelve panel discussions on topics ranging from technology to energy, Ukrainian-led robotics innovations, Ukrainian food and drink, and even a world-famous Ukrainian coffee mixologist.
Held alongside the annual Ukraine Reform Conference, which was hosted by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and included delegations from fifty countries and international organizations gathered with their Ukrainian counterparts, Ukraine House Toronto was a hit. It was opened by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and attended by hundreds of business leaders, influencers, and artists.
The truth about Ukraine’s renaissance is getting out. Investors now point to Ukraine as the greatest opportunity in Central and Eastern Europe. There are more and more examples of success stories in energy, manufacturing, IT, and e-commerce, for example, where it is not uncommon to see top-line growth of 25 or 50 percent a year. And with free trade agreements in place with the EU, Canada, and Israel, Ukraine is becoming famous for investors targeting the European and other international markets as a ground-floor opportunity with upside.
What is so powerful about events like Ukraine House Toronto is that they mobilize Ukraine’s global diaspora—numbering 20 million—which has been a strong international voice for Ukraine, helping the country pivot to the West.
The formula is working so well that plans are already underway for another Ukraine House in 2020 when the next Ukraine Reform Conference moves to Vilnius, Lithuania.
But first, it will return for a third year to Davos, Switzerland, the origin of the concept. Davos 2020—organized by Western NIS Enterprise Fund, Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Horizon Capital, and the Ukraine Venture Capital and Private Equity Association and supported by the Ukrainian World Congress—will be the biggest and best event yet. With a prime location on the Promenade, Ukraine House Davos will showcase the best of the new Ukraine to the world’s most influential business and political leaders.
Ukraine has a tragic history marked by unthinkable pain and suffering, not least when the Chernobyl plant spewed radioactive material across Europe. Not only was it one of the world’s worst nuclear meltdowns, but the deceitful and morally corrupt Soviet regime’s responsibility for the accident, its failure to respond adequately, and its attempts to cover it up turned disaster into scandal.
While the memories of this nightmare are still fresh for many families in Ukraine, the appearance of the HBO series does represent some closure through the very necessary exercise of unearthing the truth and bringing those responsible to account.
That was the spirit of Ukraine House Toronto: showcasing an irrepressible spirit and demonstrating that the country has overcome the challenges of the past. It symbolized the transformation that has been achieved and citizens’ commitment to a bright future for Ukraine.
Alexa Chopivsky is executive director of the Ukraine House Foundation, one of the organizers of Ukraine House Toronto alongside UkraineInvest and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Paul Grod is president of the Ukrainian World Congress, which was a supporter of Ukraine House Toronto.