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Ukraine. Beautifully Yours

Caricature from the exhibition "Ukraine by the eyes of foreigners". Drawn by Konstantin Kazanchev

In late August, Ukraine celebrated its 22nd anniversary of independence. I know the number because it's written on a billboard near my office. Two other sides of the billboard were occupied by girls. One of them in a transparent dress was advertising tile and the second one modeling topless on the background of some coffee brand logo. I agree that a naked body attracts attention, but the billboard is located on the corner of a busy city avenue as a reminder of one of the biggest problems of Ukraine: the image of the country as a five-star destination for international sex tourists. According to the sociological investigation carried out by La Strada Ukraine in cooperation with the FEMEN group, 70% of the students questioned said they had been offered money for sex by foreigners (Kyiv Sociological Institute).

OK, OK, but let's be fair, sex tourism is not the only thing connected with Ukraine. We have also: rich ethnic and geographic diversity, a cheerful and hospitable spirit, high education standards, and historical milestones of Kievan Rus, Austria-Hungary, and the USSR. At the same time, this land is the cradle of great artists and revolutionaries such as Nikolai Gogol, Kazimir Malevich, Lev Trotsky, and even Andy Warhol had his original name in Ukrainian – Andrej Varhola. All of them enliven the image of our country.

Unfortunately, most of the information about Ukraine that you can find on the Internet and in foreign mass media speak more often about the Chernobyl disaster, the imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, topless FEMEN protests, gas affairs with Russia, overall alcoholism, fights in parliament, corruption, poverty, mafia and yes, tons of marriage agencies for foreigners, proposals for dating and easy sex with beautiful Ukrainian girls.

Honestly, not the best image of our country, no?

Trying to save the positive perception of the “Mother of Slavic Nations” in July, the Cabinet of Ministers approved changes to the law about the international image of Ukraine. They include installing monuments abroad, several conferences “to promote external politics of Ukraine” and positive publications in foreign newspapers.

In my opinion, pre-paid publications will not change significantly the perception of Ukraine. It's like a cosmetic repair: outside the house is painted, but inside everything is crumbling. Also, connections with international mass media must be based on long-term relationships; journalists should receive information about interesting events regularly. Any good promotional plan first of all needs a well-written strategy. It does not mean a set of sporadic actions like installing monuments and prepaid articles. It means a set of actions united with the common idea of focusing on promoting not just “a positive image of Ukraine”, but the image of Ukraine as a country rich with historical and cultural traditions.
We need to refute the stereotype of Ukraine as the country of sex tourism and create the image of the country that is a home to talented, self-sufficient and successful women. And first, we should be proud of our country because when we respect our country and ourselves then the rest of the world will also respect us.

I want Ukrainian women to remember and be proud that we are not only beautiful, but also that we are smart, well-educated, hospitable housekeepers, caring wives and mothers, successful business women, writers, scientists, actresses. Ukraine gave to the world such amazing women as world known actresses Milla Jovovich, Olga Kurylenko, Mila Kunis, Olympic champions Liliya Podkopayeva, Yana Klochkova, unique village folk art painter Maria Pryimachenko and others. These women achieved worldwide recognition. It means each of us can do this too.

Sometimes we have to fight for a place in the sun, so that the world sees the humanity in us and not women of easy virtue from a third world country. I'm ready because I want respect for myself and for my daughter. Not despite the fact we are Ukrainians, but because we are Ukrainians.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Mukut's picture

Well written !

What a beautiful topic Iryna! I loved it, especially the positive ending where you talk about humanity and commanding respect as Ukrainians.

Well done girl ! Ukraine is beautiful and powerful because of women like you :)

Love,

Mukut Ray

Iryna's picture

Thank you, Mukut, for your

Thank you, Mukut, for your words. I noticed that we speak in our op-eds about similar things - stereotypes which humiliate women. And I think we make an important thing speaking about them so loud!
Warm greetings from the Black Sea,
Iryna

Greengirl's picture

I like....

Hello Iryna, Ukraine is blessed to have a role model like you, who is ready to earn a credible image for the country. “I'm ready because I want respect for myself and my daughter am ready”- I like the way you expressed your values and vision for change.

I am glad I read your inspiring post!

Greengirl

Iryna's picture

Thank you, Greengirl, for

Thank you, Greengirl, for these words! Let's make together our planet cleaner, greener and more friendly for women!
Warmest greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

Tash's picture

''I want Ukrainian women to

''I want Ukrainian women to remember and be proud that we are not only beautiful, but also that we are smart, well-educated, hospitable housekeepers, caring wives and mothers, successful business women, writers, scientists, actresses'

go on, tell the world Iryna !! Sadly, sex sells! and some women always want to collect, placing themselves in such situations!!! will we ever realize our self worth and stop being stepped over?! well that's entirely up to us!

great job! loved it!

Kind Regards,
Patsy.

Iryna's picture

The beauty inside

Patsy, thank you for your support and understanding. The main beauty is inside, and it's impossible to buy or sell.
The most important is to be yourself!

Warm greetings,
Iryna

Ayunnie's picture

Money for sex

Hi Iryna,
I hear your voice so clearly. I am happy you have voiced your concern on sex tourism. This kind of practice is just reducing women and young people as sex objects. The act should be condemned in all ways possible.

Thank you for your voice

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Iryna's picture

Around the world

Ayunnie, thank you for your support! I know together we can change the attitude to women all around the world!

Warm greetings,
Iryna

JaniceW's picture

I loved this piece

There is actually a term for what you are referring to and it is "nation branding". Countries have successfully employed marketing campaigns to change the international perception of the country. Successes include South Africa which worked hard to set themselves apart from the negative stereotype that frequently accompanies African countries: a crippled economy, high levels of crime, corruption, and lack of security. South Africa launched its “alive with possibility” project in 2000 to close the gap between the international perception and the reality of South Africa. Its mandate was to establish a compelling image for South Africa, which correctly positions the country. Its subsequent successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup contributed to strong positive perceptions of the country – both locally and abroad and it is now seen as a serious competitor on the global market.

In regards to the sex industry, for Ukraine to move beyond this reputation the supply must be cut off. If there is no sex industry feeding the demands of the tourists, they will look elsewhere and free the country to build its reputation as the “Mother of Slavic Nations”. It will take many Ukrainian voices to protest the reputation you have and to force the government to shut down the industry. It starts with you doing what you are doing – spreading the word to champion the cause.

Iryna's picture

Overwhelming stereotypes

Janice, I am afraid to disappoint you but Ukraine made several attempts of "nation branding". "Ukraine. Beautifully yours" is one of such programs. It had a short life. Euro-2012 did not add positive to the image of the country as well. I know, for example, that British fans came by plane to the match and moved immediately after it finished back home. Sex industry is forbidden but, of course, exists. The saddest thing is that men who come to Ukraine for sex tourism don't intend to use services of prostitutes. They really believe that a regular girl will offer her body just because you are foreigner. Some German journalist even called once Ukraine "a country of prostitutes''. It's a pity, and we, women, must finally believe in ourselves and feel proud, because we are smart, intelligent, well-educated, perfect wives and mothers. Of course government must promote the same image as well.
Only when we will see something more than just an external beauty in our women we will overcome humiliating stereotypes.

Warmest regards,
Iryna

Heidi's picture

Your voice!

Iryna, I hear your voice so clearly in this piece - reading it, I feel as if we're having a conversation in real-time versus reading an article about Ukraine - which makes for a very powerful op-ed. I'm also inspired by your strong and positive position in all of your topics. You've pointed out problems that exist - but more importantly, offered a wonderful example of what it looks like to have a positive vision for the future. Well done - I'm thankful that worldpulse has connected us!
Best,

Iryna's picture

Believe

Thank you, Heidi, for your words and your inspiring ideas!
Even I'm speaking about Ukraine I want every woman could feel and believe that she is the impersonation of her nation. Woman gives birth and she deserves love and respect. World Pulse is a great place where we can believe in ourselves despite all stereotypes that are nourished in our society. And of course I'm thankful to WP for the chance to meet such an insipirng woman and such an amazing photographer as you!

My warmest wishes,
Iryna

delphine criscenzo's picture

Objects of desire!

Dear Iryna,

Thank you for this strong and personal piece. Thank you for honoring all the excellent, smart Ukrainian men and women who have impacted our lives and the world. Thank you for denouncing the sex trafficking and arrange marriage business which damages the lives of all women in the Ukraine and world wide.
Women are done being men's objects of desire.
Thank you,

Delphine Criscenzo

Iryna's picture

To stop modern-day slavery

Thank you, Delphine, for your supportive and inspiring words. The problem is too much deep. It begins from the poor economic conditions and goes to the beliefs of many women that they were created to pamper men. Men agree with this state of affairs (of course). But the good thing is that now the situation begins to change. Being more open to other countries and cultures, understanding about their rights modern women much more often rebel agains of modern-day slavery and demand respect, even sometimes it's not easy to get. Still old ladies will gossip if you are divorced, if you have a baby too young/too late/without marriage (choose any you like), if you earn too much for a dignit girl... But many young and confident ladies already know what to answer on this.
I'm glad to see changes happening, even step by step.

My warmest regards,
Iryna

bitani's picture

Iryna i love your pieces.

Iryna i love your pieces. This is the sentence i love most:

"I want Ukrainian women to remember and be proud that we are not only beautiful, but also that we are smart, well-educated, hospitable housekeepers, caring wives and mothers, successful business women, writers, scientists, actresses."

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Iryna's picture

Thank you, Bitani, for your

Thank you, Bitani, for your words!
We should get rid of stereotypes and believe in ourselves!

Warm regards,
Iryna

Zoepiliafas's picture

Now this is a powerful

Now this is a powerful statement by a true force to be reckoned with! I stand with you!

"Sometimes we have to fight for a place in the sun, so that the world sees the humanity in us and not women of easy virtue from a third world country. I'm ready because I want respect for myself and for my daughter. Not despite the fact we are Ukrainians, but because we are Ukrainians." Iryna

Thank you for writing - it is women and men like you that will change Ukraine!

Warmly,

Zoe

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

Iryna's picture

And the whole world, I hope!

And the whole world, I hope! ;)
Thank you for your supportive words, Zoe, we are the ones who make changes!

Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

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