Not only has Kyiv hosted high-profile international events in recent years, it has also utilised its tech expertise to make it a safer and smarter city, mayor Vitali Klitschko tells fDi.
Q: What are the main investment opportunities that the city of Kyiv has to offer for international investors?
A: Kyiv is in a great position for investment. It is the capital of Ukraine, and Ukraine has great potential. At every investment forum, I present myself as a bodyguard for investment. I understand that a lot of things depend on investment. Investors bring money to the economy of Ukraine and to our city, they create jobs for workers and they pay taxes [that go towards] our budget – that’s why as mayor of Kyiv I am very interested in inviting investors to our city. In 2018, 60% of the whole investment in Ukraine was in Kyiv. I am very happy with this number. But we need much more investment. We have huge potential and our biggest value is the people who live in the city.
In my first job I worked as a tour guide, so I can appreciate what all the city has to offer. Kyiv is more than 1500 years old and we have a great history and historical buildings as well as [an impressive] river, islands, parks.
In 2015, we had 1 million visitors to our city, in 2018 the number was almost 4 million and we sold 10 million hotel nights. But there is great potential [for more tourism]. The city has a high quality of life, great services and cheap prices. And as mayor of Kyiv, I promote my city and my mission is to bring forums, exhibitions and sporting events to our home town.
Just two years ago, we hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, and we did that at a very high level. Everybody who came to Kyiv was excited [and] we had great feedback. In 2018, we hosted the UEFA Champions League final. More than 150,000 people came to this event and, of course, it was broadcast all around the world on television [which was great exposure for Kyiv]. As a sportsman, it makes me happy that the city is also very integrated with the sporting world. We have built stadia and we host many different events. In this area we have great potential.
Q: Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest with a political song. How should investors feel about the political situation in Ukraine?
A: [The situation] in the east of Ukraine has an impact on the whole country and many people are afraid to come here, but the capital is safe. We have implemented, together with experts from Israel, a ‘safe city’ system. We installed video cameras – there are more than 10,000 cameras [in Kyiv], with face recognition and [number] plate recognition. As a result, crime has been reduced more than 50%.
Right now, though, the political situation is [unstable] and it is my responsibility to fix this situation. Everybody is interested in having a good political situation and a comfortable situation for every investor.
Q: There have been some moves towards changing the structure of the city administration and that could affect your role. [Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has pushed for a separation of the responsibilities of mayor of Kyiv and the head of the city administration, whereas Mr Klitschko currently holds both roles in a joint capacity.] What is the latest on that?
A: The parliament changed the law [regarding the role of mayor of Kyiv and city administration], but I’m sure who has the right and power to make changes in our city. I take the responsibility for everyone, for every citizen in our city, and for changes and what happens in our city. [Other] people are fighting [to increase their] political influence and that’s why they are trying to reduce the power of the mayor.
If we are talking about self-government, it’s not good. If we’re talking about European standards of self-government, of democracy, of decentralisation, it’s also not good. That’s why I’m fighting as a politician, to support self-government and to defend the people of our home town – and also in other cities – against influence from central government.
Q: Is it a fight you can win?
A: I know one rule in life: no fight, no win.
Q: One of your priorities as mayor is to make Kyiv a smart city and a hi-tech city, and as part of that you have pursued e-procurement and e-government initiatives. What can we expect next on that front and does that make the city attractive for foreign investors in these activities?
A: We have great potential in IT. I’m very proud the city has developed so much in IT and in the use of modern technology. I have mentioned our safe city system and, of course, IT has had a huge role in that. We are implementing a smart city system together with major European company SAP and we have [pioneered] an ‘open budget’ system, which is very transparent. We talk a lot about corruption, and transparency is the main weapon against corruption. All income, all spending in our budget is totally transparent; every citizen, every journalist can see that.
We were the first city in Ukraine to start this programme. Also, we developed many programmes to make the lives of our citizens much more comfortable with new technology. We are also launching a [hi-tech] tourism project. Now you don’t need my first profession, a tour guide – you just need your smartphone as your guide. [This] can explain so many things about our city and tell many stories about our history and historical buildings.
In our transportation system, we have implemented new technologies for payment, for example. [Entrepreneurs are bringing] new technology, new ideas, to make our city better. It’s working in many areas, from the transportation system, to city administration and tourism. Everything is smart.
We help and support many [other IT] hubs; our developers in Kyiv write the programmes not just for Ukrainian companies but for global companies, and [Kyiv’s IT capabilities] are not a secret. In Kyiv there are some 40,000 people working for international IT companies. We can change not just Kyiv, not just Ukraine, but the world with new ideas, and with IT.
Q: Thinking of the future of Ukraine, do you expect that Ukraine will stay permanently on a pro-western European trajectory or is there any threat to that?
A: Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and we don’t want to go back to that. We see our future as a modern country and as part of the European family, and that’s why it is our goal to bring European standards and global standards of quality of life to every citizen of our country. And that’s why I sit in front of you now as a politician: I like the saying ‘if you want to do good, do it yourself’. I know myself what European standards of life are: I spent a lot of time in Europe, I spent a lot of time in the US. I know what the standard of living is there, and I want to bring exactly the same standard to my city and to my country.