Meet the Ambassador – Hennadii Nadolenko

Close encounters on the diplomatic front

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November 3, 2018 20:13
Meet the Ambassador – Hennadii Nadolenko

Ukraine Ambassador Hennadii Nadolenko. (photo credit: COURTESY UKRAINE FOREIGN MINISTRY)

 
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“Every ambassador dreams of representing his country as dean of the diplomatic corps,” says Hennadii Nadolenko, the ambassador of Ukraine who currently holds that title.

Generally speaking, that’s a title that isn’t conferred on a first-time ambassador. Although Nadolenko is a veteran diplomat, Israel is his first ambassadorial posting. Then again, the deanship is not contingent on how many ambassadorial postings a diplomat has had, but on the length of service in the current host country. The ambassador who has served in the country for the longest period of time gets to be the dean, providing that the Foreign Affairs Ministry in his home country agrees to it, and the same ministry in his host country raises no objections.

It has been known in the past for the deanship to go to the next in line simply because the government of the country of the ambassador with the longest service was unwilling to increase the ambassador’s budget. With additional responsibilities come additional expenses, and not every country is willing to shoulder the extra outlay.

Most ambassadors serve in any one country from two to four years.

Nadolenko has been ambassador of the Ukraine to Israel since June 2010, and he has no idea how much longer he will be here. Whenever he asks his superiors at home, the answer is: “Stay another year. We need you there.”

At this moment in time, they need him very much to oversee the arrangements for the visit to Israel at the end of this month by President Petro Poroshenko, who is coming to sign a free-trade agreement. But Ukraine’s new presidential elections will be held in March, so there could possibly be changes in policy that will also affect Nadolenko.

Poroshenko was previously in Israel in December 2015, at which time he spoke of the similarities of the Ukrainian and Jewish peoples in their individual struggles for independence.

Since then, he has spoken out against racial discrimination in his country, and has stated that there will be zero tolerance for antisemitism.

Negotiations for the free-trade agreement began in 2013 and were finalized in March of this year. Bilateral trade for 2017 was $772 million. Both sides anticipate that this figure will increase dramatically over the next five years after the signing of the agreement. Ukraine has already canceled duties on Israeli industrial and agricultural products.

Poroshenko’s arrival in Israel is further proof of the fact that the old adage “the friend of my friend is my friend and the enemy of my friend is my enemy” no longer holds water. Although there have been certain tensions between Israel and Russia in recent weeks, there is still a close relationship between the leaders of the two countries, who are expected to meet soon in Paris. But Poroshenko, who regards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a close friend, is extremely hostile to the Russian leadership. Poroshenko and Netanyahu spent time together at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January this year.

Before his current assignment, Nadolenko spent three years as head of trade and economics at Ukraine’s Embassy in the United States, and given his background, has an in-depth interest in the FTA. During an earlier assignment in Washington, when he was first secretary at the embassy, he was also the embassy’s liaison to the Ukrainian Jewish Diaspora in America and to major Jewish organizations in America, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

Between his two postings to the US, he was temporarily out of the foreign service and assigned to the office of the President of Ukraine, serving initially as head of the department of the president’s constitutional privileges, and after that as deputy head of the information service.

Although most of his adult life has been spent in the foreign service, Nadolenko did not have any particular ambitions in that direction during his student days. As a graduate of the National Agrarian University in Kiev, he had imagined that he would end up as a farmer, but first he wanted to go out and see the world, and discover what life was like beyond the Soviet Union. He got about as far away as possible, traveling to Australia on a scheme that allowed him to both work and study.

Aside from wanting to see how Australians put theory into practice in growing produce, he wanted to meet new people and to improve his English.

After a year in Australia, he returned home and learned that the nascent independent Foreign Affairs Ministry was looking for people with language skills and managerial abilities. Unlike most other countries within the Soviet Union, Ukraine had consistently maintained a small foreign affairs office, manned by less than a dozen people, and was even a member state of the United Nations.

UKRAINE, IN its previous incarnation as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, had signed the United Nations charter and from October 1945 until December 1991, was a member in that capacity. Nadolenko is not quite sure how that came about, but presumes that it was because the Soviet Union wanted to strengthen its power base at the UN, and the inclusion of Ukraine as a permanent member gave the Soviet Union veto power in the Security Council.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine dropped the SSR part of its title and its permanent representative since then has simply represented Ukraine.

When Nadolenko applied to join the foreign service, it was only a year or two after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry desperately needed people who could speak English.

Following his Australian experience, the idea of working in a profession in which he could mingle freely with people from other countries, other faiths and other cultures had enormous appeal for Nadolenko. He applied for a cadetship, was given a test and sent to a diplomatic academy where he spent two years before receiving his first diplomatic posting, which was actually on home ground while simultaneously offering new horizons in relationships and the acquisition of knowledge.

Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s only real ongoing contact with the outside world was via the United Nations, Nadolenko reveals in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Personally, he said he is not happy with the United Nations and said he believes that it needs to change its structure, especially taking into account the growing unrest in the world, including in his own country, Syria and Yemen.

During the years in which he was in the US, he learned a lot about Israel, and he was glad that his first stint as ambassador was to the only democracy in the Middle East. It wasn’t something that was imposed on him, he was given a choice.

“Ukraine is a young, developing democracy, but it is a democracy, and you can say yes or no,” Nadolenko said.

He is not disappointed that he chose to say yes. He likes the country and the people. “It’s great to be here,” he said. “It’s been a very productive eight years.”

During the year he also served as dean, Nadolenko has been invited to all state events, and has often had the privilege of sitting alongside President Reuven Rivlin or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This has given him the chance to talk to either of them about issues of interest or concern to Ukraine. This has also provided him with many opportunities to better serve the interests of his country, because as an ordinary ambassador, he would have to wait in line for an appointment, while as dean, he knows very well that there will soon be a state event at which he will be sitting close to either Rivlin or Netanyahu, or both.

There are also other events that he had not been invited to before he became dean. The title opens many doors.

He finds the whole experience very interesting.

Asked what he likes best about Israel, Nadolenko replies that he likes everything – the history, the people, the food. He enjoys reading history books and learning intricate details about religion, aside from which “the weather is wonderful.”

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