They have defied war and bombardment to keep their companies going – now business leaders from Ukraine have come to the North West to forge links between their country and the UK.
Liverpool is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest next month on behalf of Ukraine, which has been courageously battling Russian invaders for more than a year. Ahead of Eurovision, the city hosted a business summit designed to showcase Ukrainian businesses and to encourage UK firms to consider investing in the country when it rebuilds after the war.
BusinessLive was there at Liverpool’s Hilton hotel – and heard stories of how companies in Ukraine have defied the Russian invasion to keep going to support their country in its fight for survival.
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.United in Business: Liverpool-Ukraine Business Summit was organised by Liverpool, London and Ukraine Chambers of Commerce and sponsored by the Department for Business and Trade. It was the first such summit between British and Ukrainian businesses since 2018. Delegates came from Ukrainian companies in sectors from engineering and agriculture to law and web design.
Artem Spaskin, CEO of metal products factory Uastal, even handed out metal desk ornaments marking the event.
‘The war was very close to us’ – boiler maker now looking to export to UK Roman Kazanko’s company found itself near the front line when the Russians invaded – and the company soon adapted to support the Ukrainian military in its battle for Kyiv. Now he and his Ardenz group are trying to get back to business as usual – and want to grow their business with Liverpool and the UK.
Mr Kazanko is managing partner at the Ardenz group, which is based in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary. Brovary was the scene of fierce fighting in the early days of the war as Russia tried and failed to take Kyiv.
“The war was very close to us,” he said. “In one factory all the glass was destroyed because bombs were coming in 150m near us.”
Mr Kazanko said many of his employees left to fight for Brovary and Kyiv. Some ten staff remained and switched production from boilers to military equipment, including protective armoured jackets. After six months Ardenz was able to move back to its usual work – though it still does some work for the military.
Mr Kazanko’s group has three arms – one making boilers, another specialising in metal fabrication, and another specialising in powder metallurgy.
Roman Kazanko of Ardenz group, based in Brovary near Kyiv, says he is determined to promote links between Ukraine and the UK. He is pictured at the United in Business: Liverpool-Ukraine Business Summit at the Hilton Hotel, Liverpool (Image: Reach plc) He is already exporting to Austria, Estonia and Poland and wants to grow exports further. He said that some companies have been “afraid” of doing business with a country at war – so he has opened a depot in Poland to assure them that his supply chain remains strong.
Mr Kazanko welcomed the Liverpool summit and the chance to meet UK firms.
“For me, UK is the first country who helped us in this war. And I want to be a good partner for UK companies and make some good goods for the UK.
“UK is a leader in help to Ukraine and every Ukrainian person feels it and knows it. I am trying to find partners in the UK and make more connections and more relationships.”
Liverpool firm’s staff in Ukraine kept business going through war and blockades Aintree-based Alex Stewart International has kept its Ukrainian business going despite the war thanks to the dedication of its local staff.
Graham Stewart,CEO of Alex Stewart International, told the conference that its Ukrainian arm is based in Liverpool’s twin city of Odessa, and celebrated its 20th anniversary just days before the Russian invasion. ASI Ukraine offers inspection and analytical services in sectors including agriculture and fertiliser production.
It had sites across Ukraine, including in the city of Mariupol that has since been largely destroyed by Russian forces. In the early days of the war ASI Ukraine had to close its activities, with teams removing testing equipment in Odessa for safety as they feared bombardment.
Mr Stewart said the war was brought close to home when a colleague in Ukraine sent a video of a missile flying over its office there. But despite the closure of the Black Sea ports that were key to Ukraine’s agricultural exports, Ukrainian businesses soon got up and running again and needed ASI’s services.
Graham Stewart, managing director of Alex Stewart International in Aintree, speaking at the summit, watched by Paul Cherpeau from Liverpool Chamber (Image: Reach plc) The company created a mobile lab that could travel to Danube ports. And by June its Odessa office had reopened.
Because Ukrainian agricultural and fertiliser exports have been hit hard by the invasion, ASI’s business is smaller than it was before the war – but work has gone on. Its inspection team in Kherson survived six months of occupation while a Kyiv inspector saw their home hit by a missile.
Mr Stewart said: “Our inspector from Mariupol somehow managed to escape the city with his family after a month of bombing”.
Looking to a victorious Ukraine after the war, Mr Stewart said there was great potential to mine metals including uranium, titanium and manganese. And he said there was also great potential to grow its agricultural sector.
Home secretary urged to solve Ukraine visa issues James Watkins, head of policy and public impact at London Chamber, said Ukrainian delegates had faced a challenging journey to the UK due to the impact of the war. But he said their journey was made still harder by struggles they faced getting UK visas.
He said: “I want to say to our Home Secretary – please end the hostile environment on visa policy because it’s hurting British-Ukrainian trade relations.”
The event was hosted by Paul Cherpeau, chief executive of Liverpool Chamber. He hailed Liverpool’s long history of links with Ukraine, including the Mersey city being twinned with the Black Sea port of Odessa in 1957.
Mr Cherpeau said this was the first B2B summit involving UK and Ukrainian businesses since 2015. And he added: “It’s a big deal.”
Paul Cherpeau speaking at the United in Business: Liverpool-Ukraine Business Summit at the Hilton Hotel, Liverpool (Image: Liverpool Chamber) UK and Liverpool thanked for their support Henaddii Boldyr, from the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, thanked the people and businesses of Britain for their support.
He said: “We were not left alone against a crazy enemy in our fight for freedom. One of our main allies in war was Great Britain and the British people.”
And he said that despite the war, Ukraine was still open for business.
He said: “At this difficult time we have saved our businesses. We have kept our premises and equipment. We have saved our teams. We are manufacturing products. We are supplying to the domestic market and for export.
“We are now exploring new markets and new partnership opportunities. We are looking for new partners for long-term co-operation. That’s why we are here today.”
Denys Demchenko, minister-counsellor for economic affairs at the Ukrainian Embassy in London, addressed the event on behalf of ambassador Vadym Prystaiko.
He said: “The most important stage in Ukraine’s recovery is still under way. We must win the war.”
Mr Demchenko said Ukraine was still pushing for victory in the war, adding: “Recovery and growth are not possible without peace.”
He said Ukrainians were forging to built a “better Ukraine”. He said: “We have to become more strong and reliant than ever before. We will be a prosperous and self-reliant European nation.”
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