“If you like ironing lace with a frying pan, cracking nutshells with a video camera, cutting cheese with a saw, drying your hair by putting your head into an oven, swatting flies with a computer’s mouse, driving a limo over a potato field, then do NOT read Tekhnika, the most popular among science magazines and the most scientific among the most popular ones.” (from a Tekhnika Magazine ad)

Tekhnika began to be published in Ukraine in 1999 and was an immediate success with readers. There were several reasons why the new magazine of science and technology instantly gained popularity: well-written articles; wide choice of subjects dealt with; low price for a two-hundred-page magazine (only four hryvnyas which, at the current rate of exchange, is less than one US dollar), to name a few. Articles published in the magazine (Tekhnika literally means “technology” but the scope of the magazine ranks it among the periodicals which are usually described as popular science magazines) range from features about automobiles (a particularly popular subject with Ukrainian readers now) and cameras to computer science, surveys of history and culture. All the articles provide interesting information and are written in an easily understandable language. There is one peculiar feature common for all the post-Soviet states, Ukraine including, which is not likely to be much effected by political or economic crises of almost any magnitude: it is a very considerable percentage of educated people who are insatiably curious, who are always eager to widen their knowledge, to receive new information.
Many of such people are living through very hard times now. Nevertheless, even now, at the time when they quite often have to make a very hard choice — because of their meagre salaries — between buying food, a home appliance, a piece of clothing and a book or a magazine, they opt for information in a book or magazine form. Tekhnika caters for intellectuals working in the spheres of science, liberal arts, technology and art. Though the ad quoted above employs humour to bring across its message, there is a lot of truth to its claim that Tekhnika is the most popular among popular science magazines in Ukraine. Olga Gutsal, director general of the Camion Oil Company, is an energetic businesswoman, who has given the new magazine not only the money to get it launched but also ideas which have been successfully used in working out the principles on which the magazine is to be based. Ms Gutsal believes that the middle class, the backbone of a developed society, should be supported in every possible way, and intellectuals who make up the core of the middle class should be provided with information they need so much. Hence the new magazine. Ms Gutsal is an exceptional personality and yet paradoxically typical and characteristic for Ukraine of our times. It is people like her who will be business leaders of the near future, who help form a new type of society in the post-Soviet era, who begin to replace those who found themselves among this country’s leaders riding the crest of the historical wave that swept through the Soviet Union at its collapse.
They will gradually oust the former communist party bosses still in high places, corrupt bureaucrats, and ignorant nouveau riches with total lack of manners. There is no doubt that the future belongs to the likes of Olga Gutsal. Olga Gutsal, only 36, heads a big company, the third biggest supplier of engine oils and lubricants to Ukraine. She was born into a family of typical Soviet engineers, low-salaried well-read intellectuals. There was an atmosphere of mutual respect, tolerance and openness in such families, and these features must have helped form Gutsal’s personality. A family of intellectuals like this in which the children’s opinion and wishes were respected, differed considerably from other “typical Soviet families” of lower classes which were caricatures in miniature of the entire totalitarian society with absolute predominance of the authoritarian older generation over the underprivileged younger one.

Gutsal’s early working career was also typical for a Soviet engineer: upon completion of specialized higher education straight to a research centre to do very little and, consequently, to receive very low salaries (though, in contrast to these days, regularly paid). The most important thing “a research worker” had to do was to arrive at work on time (at 8.30 or 9) and then he or she, to while the time away, could read books, fiction or anything else, not connected in any way with work, drink coffee or tea, chat with colleagues who also had little to do. Gutsal, being an ambitious woman thirsty for work and finding herself in a situation where there was practically nothing to do, was horrified at the thought that she would spend all her potential fruitful years doing actually nothing. Lucky for her, the perestroika (the political and economic reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s) began and the first opportunities, albeit limited, to go into business began to spring up. Gutsal quit her job and went into business, joining a trade co-operative.
Her move troubled and even shocked her parents and many of her friends who under the influence of Soviet propaganda equated “trade” with “stealing” and embezzlement. Gutsal was thrilled by what she was doing, by new opportunities — there was risk and challenge, and it made it all the more exciting. She found that making money was a great occupation, it also gave a great boost to one’s self-esteem and provided new freedom and independence. Gutsal tried herself in several businesses and did odd jobs, including entrepreneurship dealing with organizing pop stars concerts and shows. She was married by that time and her husband resented her being at work most of the time and devoting so little time to their home. An old Soviet stereotype reflected in such an attitude on the part of many husbands then. Resentment led to divorce. The businesswoman found herself alone, with a small child to rear, in the world not exactly friendly. Her parents came to rescue and took care of the child. Perhaps, they did not quite accept the new life style and new realities that were unfolding, but they respected their daughter’s desire to achieve success in business. The late eighties and early nineties in this country were a thrilling time in many respects, including business that was just beginning to develop.
All kinds of companies mushroomed only to wilt and die, millionaires went bankrupt, the road from rags to riches and the other way round was short. Olga Gutsal also knew the vicissitudes of fortune, she worked practically at all the levels of various business structures, from personal assistant to a representative of a foreign export company. To stay afloat was difficult but struggling to do so gave her valuable experience and skills to cope with the most challenging situations. After a period of searching for what could be her place in business, she did find it at last. The number of cars in private and corporate ownership in Ukraine was rapidly growing but the servicing system had not been fully established yet. Back in 1995, Ukrainian companies began looking for foreign partners who would be able to supply Ukraine with high-quality engine oils and lubricants. Western companies had to be persuaded that it was worth investing into Ukraine, a country little known in the world then.

A respectable and large-sized German company, Liqui Moly, though not one of the biggest companies of its kind in the world, was one of the first to enter the Ukrainian market at its own risk. The Camion Oil Company was created as part of a system that was engaged in importing high-quality oils and lubricants and selling them to customers in Ukraine. At present, most of the companies in Ukraine are small-scale with a few giants and a very limited number of middle-sized ones in between (such a situation is typical for “transitional economies”). Camion Oil is a middle-sized company and creation of such a company involved certain risks. Additional difficulty lay initially in the fact that the company was headed by a woman, a very unusual then, and it caused certain suspicion among the business partners. In spite of all the obstacles, Camion Oil survived and got itself established as a successful company with quite an important place at the Ukrainian market. Camion Oil offers high-quality goods at reasonable prices and it helps it keep old customers and attract new ones. Camion Oil customers are mostly middle class, they avoid buying cheap goods of dubious provenance and do not buy just because the brand name is famous. Olga Gutsal believes she has found a place for herself in business. Why then would she go into publishing a magazine? She believes in the middle class, she believes in providing this class not only with high-quality lubricants but also with high-quality information.

By Andriy Hlazovy

“I’m getting to be ever more proud of our women. I’m sorry for those women who think that they can’t achieve much. I hope my own example will help other women realize that in order to achieve success in business or elsewhere you no longer need honorary titles, promotion by people who mattered in the Soviet times or support of the mafia — all you’ve got to do is to be determined and resolutely purposeful.”

Olga Gutsal