The Lithuania Tribune talks to Vitaliy B. Antonov, Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Lviv, Ukraine.
Vitaliy B. Antonov, the honorary consul of Lithuania in Lviv

How would you describe your country's relationship with Lithuania?

Ukraine began its attempt to join the European Union in difficult times, and now it is undergoing the most difficult period in its recent history. This affects all spheres. Some people may believe that now there is a need to focus primarily on themselves and take a rain check on multicultural projects. However, the crises in our lives can play a positive role – a stimulus for positive change and new ideas emerges deep in the crises. I believe that it is time for new breakthroughs and we are ready to support and implement them.

Now Lithuania is one of the most active advocates of Ukraine among the EU states. Ukrainians are well aware of Lithuania's active assistance in solving the problems in the East of our country, about its political support. Therefore, it is not a difficult task to promote the brand name of Lithuania in Ukraine.

Our peoples have been living side by side for a long time, so we understand each other very well. At the same time, there has never been enmity among us, we have nothing to divide us, therefore, in my opinion, relations between Ukraine and Lithuania are developing quite positively in various fields.

In particular, I am proud that my company - the network of "OKKO" filling stations – makes a significant contribution to the development of economic relations with Lithuania.

Fruitful political and cultural cooperation has been established between our countries. However, without doubt, many more opportunities are open to us to cooperate.

What is your favourite thing about Lithuania?

Perhaps Šakotis – a traditional Lithuanian "tree cake", which is cooked according to an ancient recipe.

Tell us little bit about yourself.

I was born in 1962 in the city of Stryi, Lviv region. I graduated from the Ternopil Institute of Finance and Economics with honours. I am a sub-master sportsman in mountaineering and rock climbing. I defended a candidate thesis of economic sciences on attracting foreign direct investment in the economics of Ukraine in 2011.

I have been running my own business since the early 1990s. I opened the first filling station under the “OKKO” brand in 1999 in Stryi. Today the “OKKO” network is one of the largest in Ukraine, and includes more than 400 filling stations. I am the president of "Concern Galnaftogaz", which manages this network.

I try to combine business with social activities. I have been the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania in Lviv region since 1999, and since 2007 – the Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania in Lviv.

What triggered your interest in Lithuania?

Importing Lithuanian fuel to Ukraine has been among the major areas of my business since the 1990s. The Mažeikiai refinery is still one of the biggest suppliers of “OKKO” filling stations network. My circle of acquaintances in Lithuania, and, simultaneously, my interest in this state have been growing with the expansion of my business.

Moreover, Lithuania and Ukraine have a long history of joint existence within different state formations- the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, the USSR. This historical belonging causes similarity of mentalities of both our societies.

That is why I have been always convinced that the Lithuanian experience of de-sovietization and integration into the European Union is especially valuable and applicable for Ukraine.

If you could describe Lithuania in one word, what would it be?

Friends.

What is your next big project in the capacity of being an Honorary Consul of Lithuania?

Bringing you back to one of the most interesting projects we have already completed - during the Lithuania Presidency of the EU Council in 2013, we issued the magazine "Lithuania: History of successful choice."

It was at a time when 10 years had passed since Lithuania had joined the EU, and we wanted to tell Ukrainian readers about the biggest achievements and changes in Lithuania during these 10 years. It was a very successful project with a circulation of 45,000 copies, which was distributed throughout Ukraine, including the network of “OKKO” filling stations.

Speaking about the future, we plan to implement a similar project - a large edition about the former common state - Rzeczpospolita (the Republic of Two Nations). We are going to try to present a modern parallel for cooperation between Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland through a historical lens.

How did you become an Honorary Consul of Lithuania?

I became the Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Lviv in 1999. At that time, our "Concern Galnaftogaz" was the only company in the western regions of Ukraine that maintained economic relations with Lithuania on a serious level.

The representatives of the local community began addressing me to help them establish the contacts with the Republic of Lithuania - not only in the matters of business, but also in the sphere of culture, education and the diaspora. It so happened that I gradually became, figuratively speaking, the "people's ambassador".

Consequently, friendly and close relationships were established with the Embassy of Lithuania in Ukraine, which later approached me to become the Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Lviv region. I became the first and remained the only Honorary Consul of Lithuania in Ukraine for a long time more, so my activity was not limited to Lviv region.

Of course, this is not your full time occupation, but still, could you describe an Honorary Consul of Lithuania schedule? Is it a hard work of being an Honorary Consul of Lithuania in your country?

Being an Honorary Consul - is a set of specific duties, ranging from various diplomatic meetings, events, to the real protection of interests and rights of Lithuanian citizens in Ukraine. In as far as Lviv is a border region, there is often a need to provide consular assistance to Lithuanian citizens who get into trouble, for example, losing their passports.

In order to build a quality operation several permanent employees work in our consulate, who receive the visitors every day and address a wide range of issues.

The Honorary Consulate, in particular, provides support to delegations and official representatives of Lithuania, to the initiatives of various Lithuanian institutions and organizations in the region, fulfills the assignments of the Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania, provides information about Lithuania to the residents of the region, business representatives and other stakeholders, actively cooperates with the Lithuanian community in Lviv.

What are some of your favourite hobbies?

I grew up near the mountains and was fond of climbing and mountaineering since childhood. It became my hobby for life. I even headed a climbing and sports club for some time in my native Stryi. I travelled not only to the Carpathian Mountains, but also the Caucasus - Tien Shan, Pamir together with his friends.

Then a time came when I decided to say goodbye to climbing after one of my close friends perished in the mountains. However, the mountains do not let go easily. I have not returned to rock-climbing as a sport - I still climb for my satisfaction.

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