- A festival celebrating Ukraine’s culture and achievements is about to come to the UK – Lada Firtash says it’s a great source of pride. By David Wynne-Morgan
|Published: 04 October 2013|
Lada Firtash, the glamorous wife of Dmitry Firtash, Ukraine’s most dynamic and successful businessman, could never be described as a woman of a few words. When she feels passionately about something, the words come out in a torrent engulfing her listener – and there are few things that she feels more passionately about than her beloved Ukraine.
Conscious of the low profile of her adopted country in the outside world – particularly in terms of its literature, its art, its fashion design and the creative talent of its people – she and her husband jointly founded and funded the Firtash Foundation, specifically aimed at redressing this gap. Londoners are going to be the first beneficiaries when Days of Ukraine in the UK, a festival of the country’s art and culture, comes to the capital in mid-October.
There will be an exhibition of contemporary art from the Ukraine and a fashion show featuring Ukrainian designers and fashion models at the Saatchi Gallery. Readings of the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in The London Library climaxing in a Gala Dinner at the Natural History Museum on 17th October. Lada explained that the foundation was set up five years ago to fulfil the dream of both her husband and herself to foster a greater knowledge and understanding of their country abroad and to make young Ukrainians even more proud of their country and put them in a position to act as ambassadors for their country whenever they travelled abroad.
In 2008, a faculty was set up at Cambridge University to teach the Ukrainian language there for the first time, while the Firtash Foundation provided funding for five Ukrainian students to study for a Masters degree at Cambridge every year. The university has played an active role in propagating the study of the Ukrainian language and the country’s culture, while also enabling the brightest students from the Ukraine to benefit from studies at the University.
Lada says: “I believe it has been a great success. Some of the students return to the Ukraine and my husband and I believe that many of them will become the leaders of the country in the future, whether it is in the field of commerce, art and culture, or on the world stage.
“My husband has built a great business. He wants to ensure that the future of his business is in safe hands, but he also wants to encourage the legacy of what he has started to spread throughout the country and it is the next generation who will ensure that.”
She added: “Some of the students will remain in the UK and even travel further in other Western countries and that is something to be encouraged. In their hearts, they will always be Ukrainian, and they will act as ambassadors for us wherever they go.”
Lada was born in Russia about a hundred miles from Moscow, and first met her husband in an oil and gas conference after the recruitment company she had set up was brought down by the financial crisis in 1998. “We have been together for 13 years,” she said. “I think his businesses have become even more successful after we got married.”
Behind every great man there is usually a great woman and there’s no doubt this is a role she believes she has filled. When asked why this promotion and projection of all that is best in Ukraine was so important, she replied: “I love the country that is now my home. I have an eight-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy, who were born in Ukraine and are truly Ukrainians. When I read to them they often laugh at me because of my Russian accent, but I want them to grow up to be very proud of their country and I want their whole generation to help to take Ukraine to be an important part of the whole global family of nations.
“We are not a small country. Kiev, our capital has played an important part in the development of the whole region from the time Kievan Rus was established in the 9th century. 48 million people live in Ukraine, and I believe we have a lot to learn, but I also believe we have a lot to offer to the rest of the world and I am totally committed to making that a reality.
“I am so proud of the connection we have built with Cambridge University, which is a pre-eminent seat of learning that was first established eight centuries ago. I am determined that it is not going to take as long as that to win the Ukraine a place at the top table.
“This is just the start. We will be back next year and we will continue until the job is done”.
Days of Ukraine in the United Kingdom 17-19 October 2013, London