1835) ‘I Am The Cheapest Ambassador’ Ukraine’s Ambassador To Turkey: Dr. Olexandr Mischenko

 This content mirrored from TurkishArmenians  Site ©  The Mischenko couple’s daughter attends a Turkish kindergarten as opposed to an international one. The Mischenkos claim that something was missing from the other schools, but their daughter returned smiling the very first day of her time in a Turkish institution. . .
Dr. Olexandr Mischenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, and his wife, Myroslava Mischenko, chose five years ago to adopt a different lifestyle that can at times be difficult to follow while living as diplomats -- they refrain from consuming meat, sugar and alcohol.

Still they say they are happy with this choice and feel much healthier for it. Their attitude towards life is “wise” as well, such as their belief that it is important to pay attention to the senses. It is for this reason that their daughter attends a Turkish kindergarten as opposed to an international one. The Mischenkos claim that something was missing from the other schools, but their daughter returned smiling the very first day of her time in a Turkish institution. Ambassador Mischenko’s Ph.D. is in the development of Turkish law during the period between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the republic. He says he sometimes uses his thesis in order to explain the situation in the country today.

“Perhaps I am the cheapest ambassador,” says Dr. Mischenko, a remark which is followed by a laugh from him and his wife.

“We completely stopped eating meat and drinking alcohol and sugar,” he says. He points out that Kürşad Tüzmen, the state minister responsible for foreign trade, once joked about their lifestyle, saying, “Olexandr does not cost us anything.”

The Mischenko couple says that there is no specific reason why they picked up this way of living, only that they felt themselves ready for it. They both come from an industrial area of Ukraine and there is pollution over there like in Turkey’s İzmit, but neither this nor the Chernobyl disaster is the reason for their lifestyle choice.

Mrs. Mischenko says one of the reasons for their eating habits is their daughter. “Because we have a small daughter we must remain youthful. She is just 3 years old,” she explains. She adds that their daughter, of course, does not share the same diet, but is actively involved in sports. She proceeds to show me a picture in which all three of the Mischenko family members are doing yoga. Their daughter is unfortunately absent for this interview as she had just fallen and hurt her nose.

“Four months ago, she started going to a Turkish kindergarten. It is a very small kindergarten, but we are satisfied because she is happy. She has started to sing Turkish songs and also to speak Turkish. She began to say ‘yapma, yapacağım’ [don’t do it, I’ll do it]. Sometimes she is my interpreter when I need help,” her mother says. In explaining why they prefer the Turkish school, Mr. Ambassador explains: “When you see something for the first time, if you like it then it is you. This is what we believe. We try to be sensitive to feelings. When we visited some international kindergartens our daughter did not like them. Some people advised us to visit a small, ordinary Turkish place and that is where she goes, smiling. So we are happy.”

When asked about his Turkish, the ambassador says: “Şöyle böyle. Biraz konuşuyorum, ama güzel değil” (So-so. I am able to speak little bit not that good).

The Mischenko family has only been in Ankara for a year and a half, but this is their second time in Turkey. Dr. Mischenko was a consul general in İstanbul and had also visited previously within the framework of a special program of the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), a training course for young diplomats from other countries. After İstanbul, they went to Poland and Australia, where he was the first Ukrainian ambassador there.

“Some small things can stay with you the rest of your life,” he says. When he was just a young diplomat and was asked if he would like to go to Turkey for this training course, he agreed. He ultimately served as a consul in İstanbul, ambassador in Ankara and earned his Ph.D. writing about Turkey.

“I published the book in Ukraine in which the main focus was the history of Turkish law and its development between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic. For me it was surprising that in 1919 there was so-called ‘society of protection of people in Kars’. They had official letters and signed them as the ‘Republic of Kars’. This was the narrow issue from which I started. Professor Bülent Tanyol from İstanbul University advised me on the title and the incorporation of Turkish law, and then it evolved to Turkish law and the political system, of course. This time period interest me greatly and through this work I deepened my knowledge about Turkey. My book is called ‘Turkey from Empire to Republic’,” he explains.

“Sometimes I use my thesis in order to explain the situation in Ukraine. There is a Chinese philosophy that says if people don’t respect authority, a new authority will come. This also came to be in Ukraine as well. If people don’t respect this government, a new government will come, like it did in the Orange Revolution,” he says.

The Mischenkos were actually in Australia during the Orange Revolution but the ambassador insists his country was in need of such a movement. “It is development of society. After the Soviet Union left Ukraine, we had a prolonged existence of bureaucracy and corruption. We needed to express willingness for freedom and, as you can see, it was without any violence, murder or military action. It was just a peaceful demonstration by the people in which they demanded their rights. I think it was very good for the political health of the nation and I remember my embassy at the time supporting it completely. To recover from the illness inflicted by our heritage with the Soviet Union is very difficult to do in one day -- we need time. The Soviet Union existed for more than 70 years and that means we need at least 50 years to recover,” he says.

One of the lingering effects comes from when the Soviet Union sent the Crimean Tatars into exile. The ambassador says that nearly 300,000 of them came back. “To expel them in one night is easy but creating facilities for their return is difficult. Crimean Tatars are part of the Ukrainian society and it is a great opportunity to use the heritage of these people to connect Crimea, Ukraine and Turkey. Society became richer and we use this link to improve our relations,” he explains.

The Mischenkos are not keen to talk about their “love story.”

“I don’t think it is very interesting, either our private life or my private life. I can say only that both of us are diplomats, but two diplomats are too much for one family. My wife ended her full-time career and is now focused on our daughter while I continued my job as a diplomat,” he says. When asked if she wants to return to work when their daughter is a little older, Mrs. Mischenko is unsure.

“For now I am just focusing on our family and my daughter. What is more important than our child?” she asks.

The Mischenko couple like to joke and the ambassador says he feels drawn into the competition when the embassy football team plays against other groups. It is interesting that the colors of Ukraine’s flag are similar to those of the Fenerbahçe football club.

“Our colors represent the blue sky and yellow wheat. Fenerbahçe is using the same colors and sometimes that is interesting. Our driver described some experiences he had while visiting certain districts in Turkey. Apparently he was very surprised during his first visit here when people applauded him after certain matches. He was proud of how much Turkish people loved Ukrainians until he figured out what was going on,” the ambassador says.

When asked Turkey has changed since he was a consul here the ambassador uses an example to explain: “One of my old friends who worked in an embassy [in Ankara] 10 years ago visited me yesterday. This morning I should him a park -- Dikmen Vadisi -- and he was so surprised and shocked. He said, ‘I can’t recognize it. Ten years ago it was so ugly, covered with slum houses, and now it’s a beautiful place’. Each morning most of us jog through this park and you can really see Turkey’s development, socially and economically.”

Mr. Ambassador also points out that when it comes to EU membership, thinking about Europe only in geographical terms is wrong. Rather, adopting the attitudes and lifestyle, such as respecting human rights, should be considered.

“If we speak about intentions for EU membership, you know such membership doesn’t define you as being originally European. It is very important that you known your own feelings and style of life. It is not important whether you are orthodox or Christian or whatever. What is important is European thinking, actions and the achievements of Europe,” he says.

Mrs. Mischenko was with her husband during his İstanbul experience, though she is now happy to live in Ankara because İstanbul is far too crowded. “İstanbul is very interesting as a historical place. I like to visit the city just for two or three days, not more. After that I need to come back to Ankara where it is quiet and nice,” she says.

The ambassador shares his wife’s views on the two cities. He thinks Ankara is healthier because of its higher elevation, however when asked he would like to take back to Ukraine from Turkey, he laughs and says, “The Bosporus.” Since that is impossible he has a solution: “We have made a proposal to Turkey’s Tourism Ministry to join in the so-called community joint tourism project. For example when people from Australia, Japan, America and other distant countries visit our region, they prefer to visit multiple countries rather than one. If we create the right conditions and offer things like three days in Antalya, three days in Bulgaria, three days in Crimea, I think they would prefer this. Tourists would be able to say, ‘I want to visit this region of Ukraine and also, within a short amount of time, see a completely different area in Turkey’. For example it takes 28 hours to fly from Australia to Kiev -- it’s huge. What is an hour? Nothing. Tourists will be able to go to Antalya to Kiev, look at churches and mosques.”



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