Oleksandra Kuzhel’s birthday, 
flowers everywhere.

Oleksandra Kuzhel is currently the Head of the State Committee of Ukraine for the Development of Business Undertakings (it is a ministerial post equal in rank to that of a minister). She began her career outside politics and business but gradually she got involved first in the latter then in the former. She was the president of an auditing firm, then a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, then the deputy head of a committee dealing with economic matters. She is an awardee of the Order of St Nestor the Chronicler.
In the press Mrs Kuzhel has been called “an unusual phenomenon in the Ukrainian politics”; “a unique bureaucrat fighting with red tape”; “an exemplary member of government”; “a person of integral and strong character”; “a strong-willed woman of many talents”; “a white sheep”, and God knows what else.
She describes herself in somewhat different terms: “I’m not going to do anything to fit a stereotype”; “I’m not typical for a government official”; “I’m very hot-tempered, I’m quick to take offence but I cool off as quickly ”; “I can compliment a beautiful woman on her beauty without fearing it may be misinterpreted”; “I come to work at the Cabinet of Ministers offices wearing a jaunty hat and pants if I feel like it, though you’re supposed to arrive dressed formally.”
Welcome to Ukraine correspondent, Ivan Dudkin,
has recently interviewed Mrs Kuzhel.

WU: Mrs Kuzhel, I know that once you, a slender and beautiful woman, were invited to work as a model for a Moscow fashions house. Another time you were offered to work as a singer at a radio and TV station because you had an excellent voice and had taken part in a song contest winning a prize. But instead of appearing on the catwalks and on stage you went first into business and more recently into politics. Neither are very popular occupations with Ukrainian women. What has brought you into politics?

Kuzhel: Many reasons. When I was young my father was dead against my becoming an actress. My aunt died right while she was literally performing on stage and my father thought that acting or singing should remain just a hobby for me.But it was he who helped me a lot with choosing an occupation that I liked. He also set me on my feet.I think if he were alive now he would be proud of me.What has brought me into politics? I love challenge, I’m a sort of a daredevil woman, I want something new all the time. I can’t wait, I want things done fast, I want it all and I want it now. There are some people in the Cabinet of Ministers now who wait, expecting things to get done all by themselves. But it never happens that way and it’s not for me.

WU: “A white sheep” everywhere and always finds itself in trouble. If “a white sheep” simile is applicable to you, Mrs Kuzhel, you’ve made a surprising career. Do they keep you in the Cabinet of Ministers as a sort of an experiment?
: I’ve never had a feeling I’m being kept for the sake of an experiment. I know perfectly well I’m not very easy to get along with. I’ve never thought my political career would be an easy one. There is a song by Andriy Makarevych, a pop star, which I like very much. And the lyrics run like this “You should not yield to the pressures of the changing world, you should make the world accept your ways.” I like such a point of view. As far as my being “a white sheep” is concerned…. Well, I don’t care what they call me, be it “a white cat,” a “white swan,” or whatever it may be. I know I’ve got to do my work well, that’s all. When people, businessmen and entrepreneurs, call me on the phone and ask for help, I do my best to help them. And they keep calling from many parts of Ukraine. Sometimes I feel myself a warrior fighting in defence of private business and entrepreneurship.

In the Museum 
of Amber of the state-run

WU: The Committee you head is two years old this July. Could you name the most important things done? And what are the plans for the future?
Kuzhel: I think the important thing is that every government official has by now accepted the existence of our Committee and has come to understand what its aims are. “Deregulation” is how we describe it. We have even people coming from other countries to learn more about our work. The Committee initially was something that the government was not too happy to have but now, as I’ve said, it has become accepted. It was an unwanted child, but we are legitimate.
WU: Do you have a sort of an ultima Thule that you want to reach?
Kuzhel: Well, yes — I wish we’d reach a stage, and rather sooner than later at that, when there’d be no more need in our Committee and businessmen and entrepreneurs would not have to be defended against unfair treatment by the bureaucrats.
WU: Once you were reported as saying that in the echelons of power of Ukraine changes occur only at the very highest levels, with those who occupy the middle levels remaining there for decades, some surviving from the seventies. What’s the situation in this respect in your Committee?
Kuzhel: Not only our Committee is young, young are most of the people working in it. And highly professional, too. I regard our Committee as a team united by the unity of purpose. We work for the future. The Committee members orient themselves very well both in the political and economic situation of Ukraine. We have earned the trust of those we want to help and it’s the most important thing.
WU: Private business and entrepreneurship were the things the Soviet power could not stand and did everything possible to eradicate. But even now the high-ranking bureaucrats have embraced the cause of private business so tightly that they’ve almost strangled it. You claim that there are about 1300 documents regulating the activities of private businesses, the right to control has been given to about a hundred state bodies and departments, including 28 of those with fiscal functions. When will the time come for free enterprise to be really free? Have you worked out some measures that the Committee is to take to ensure the development of businesses in Ukraine?
Kuzhel: Yes. We have worked out a basic concept, and this concept does include some regulatory measures. It’s nonsense, a silly fable, to think that the free market relations are not to be regulated in any way. But the private business must be protected from too much pressure from the state. We have worked out a programme of the small businesses’ development. And now we are preparing a packet of propositions to be submitted to the president of Ukraine. We will propose changes in the laws dealing with the state controlling bodies, finances and the like.
WU: Does your Committee have anything to do with public organizations?
Kuzhel: Of course it does. We want to establish an association of public organizations, we cooperate with businessmen in working out new laws. We are pulling things together for a big congress of businessmen and entrepreneurs. In many parts of Ukraine we have our offices which provide consultations, free of charge. We have created an organization of social workers whose main task is to provide support for private businesses.
WU: What was the All-Ukrainian campaign 21st Century Businessman about?
Kuzhel: The main idea was to teach our businessmen certain things and boost their business drive. It’s so nice to see that many businessmen have come to understand that so many things depend on their initiative and their willingness to achieve. They are learning how to defend their rights and work in close cooperation with local authorities.

A nice chapeau
for a nice lady.

At the
memorial concert 
dedicated to Bulat Okujava, 
a famous board.

At the Tysmenytsya
Fur Company.

WU: What should the main achievement be?
Kuzhel: Creation of new jobs, that’s the main thing. To get the national economy working we’ve got to have so many jobs.
WU: A philosopher said that there are no great persons without great passions. Do you have any passions, apart from your work, Mrs Kuzhel?
Kuzhel: Sure. I have a passion for singing, that’s my number one passion. I collect paintings. I also collect costume jewelry, bijouterie made of wood, plastic, glass. Oh yes, I also collect all kinds of kerchiefs and hats.
WU: I’ve heard you have a lot of friends. It was rumoured that once, on your birthday, the central open market of Kyiv was “denuded” of flowers as all of them had been bought and delivered to your reception room. A high-ranking official is supposed to have a lot of “temporary” friends. But do you have real good, fast friends?
Kuzhel: Yes, I do, maybe about twenty percent of those who call themselves “my friends” are real bosom friends. They will remain my friends when I’m no longer a high-ranking official. And once, really, my reception room was full of flowers. And I gave all the flowers away to the Committee workers. The florists in that market you’ve mentioned did know that Mrs Kuzhel had a birthday. It was very nice. Those florists also run their small private businesses, you know.
: What about enemies? Another philosopher said great people can’t help having great enemies.

Kuzhel: Alas, I do have enemies, maybe too many for a woman. I derive strength from several sources. One of them is my religious conviction. I believe that what I’m doing is pleasing to God . And then, I do not fear my enemies because I’m stronger than they are in spirit.
WU: Recently, a concert devoted to Bulat Okudjava, a well-known bard, took place in the music conservatory. It was a full house, no room to swing a cat, as they say. One of the singers was Oleksandra Kuzhel. I know that you were also one of the sponsors of the concert. Have you donated your own money?
Kuzhel: Yes, I was one of the sponsors. In fact, I contributed about half of the sum needed. Part of the money I donated was my own and the rest was donated by private businessmen who love the late Okudjava’s songs.
WU: Does art play any significant role in your life?
Kuzhel: Art does play a very significant role in my life. In fact, I live with it from morning till night. A politician is like an actor whose acting never ends.
WU: Could you say a few words about your family?
Kuzhel: I’m married, have two sons and a granddaughter, also named Oleksandra.
WU: You’ve travelled to all the parts of Ukraine and to dozens of countries around the world. What are your best and worst impressions?
Kuzhel: Let’s put it like this: my strongest impressions but far not the best are from my travels around Ukraine. I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Ukraine and I can tell you nowhere else in the world, at the places I’ve been to that is, have I seen people having so many problems and living such a hard life. But on the other hand I’ve discovered Ukraine for myself — it’s an amazingly beautiful country. With the great people living here and having a tremendous potential. I do think it’s a shame for a state to have such beautiful lands and such beautiful people and yet not to be able to provide decent life for its population. As far as my foreign travels are concerned — well, they are foreign lands and it’s not for me to judge what’s good and what’s bad there.
WU: Could you name several human qualities that you like best?
Kuzhel: Honesty. Professionalism. Sense of humour.
WU: Could you name several persons who have ever lived or are living on this planet of ours who are worth being paid homage to?
Kuzhel: I admire Franklin Delano Roosevelt for having been a brilliant politician. I am fond of Margaret Thatcher for her strength. I like the way Mr Victor Yushchenko runs the Ukrainian National Bank. But I could pay homage only to my parents.

WU: Everybody wants to be happy. What can make one happy? Are the things that make one happy the same for everyone?
Kuzhel: Of course not. Everything depends upon an individual. The higher one’s culture is, the less one wants to go along the material lines and the more one wants to find in the spiritual sphere. One buys a new book or sees a new country and it makes him or her happy, and somebody else buys a new tea service and is quite happy with it. As far as I am concerned, to be happy I must have work I like and someone I love close buy. And also I must know that my children are safe and sound.

An official "happy birthday” being read to Oleksandra Kuzhel.

WU: Will you wish anything to the readers of Welcome to Ukraine magazine?
Kuzhel: Dear readers, I wish you all possible best. Respect yourselves, love and be loved. Come to Ukraine, see for yourselves what a marvelous country it is.

Photos by Ivan Dudkin