The relations and connections between Ukraine and African countries did not begin to take shape just now. However, they have taken on new forms and momentum today, not least because of the common goal of overcoming the potential humanitarian catastrophe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, blocking ports and grain exports.
In this article, we have collected 10 facts about the connections between African countries and Ukraine. There are names, facts, and stories that will dispel myths about the recent origins of those relationships.
1. First Steps
The history of international relations between Ukraine and African countries began long before 2022.
As early as 1925, Ukrainian public and political figure, military officer, journalist, and diplomat Yevhen Bachynskyi became a diplomatic representative to the government of the Ethiopian emperor in Addis Ababa.
Bachynskyi was elected by the government of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in exile, where it found itself due to the occupation of Ukraine by the Soviet Union. Although Bachynskyi never visited Ethiopia, he helped Ukrainian refugees who immigrated to Ethiopia after World War I. He laid the foundation and played an essential role in strengthening Ukrainian-Ethiopian relations.
2. Those who saw the potential
When talking about international relations, Mykhailo Tereshchenko deserves special attention.
Tereshchenko was one of the wealthiest men in Ukraine, a patron of the arts, a supporter of Ukrainian cultural and educational institutions, and of Ukrainian independence. For the latter reason, he emigrated from Ukraine in the 1940s, when the Soviet regime was repressing the Ukrainian national elite.
However, back in the 1920s, Mykhailo Tereshchenko had been among the first people to see the potential of economic relations between Ukraine and African countries. Later, he became one of the most prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists in Mozambique. However, the economy was one of many areas of Tereshchenko’s interest.
He also created shelters for Ukrainian emigrants and helped to equip them, but he did not advertise this side of his activities. He also actively supported the independence of African countries. His actions earned him respect among the locals.
3. Let There Be Light
Today, Ukrainian Energy Machines, formerly known as Turboatom, is one of the world’s largest turbine manufacturing companies. It was launched in 1934, and it still operates today. It carries out an entire cycle of turbine production for all types of power plants.
At one time, Turboatom also significantly contributed to constructing hydroelectric power plants in Morocco. Ukrainian hydraulic turbines were installed at three local hydroelectric power plants: Moulay Youssef in 1971, Mansour Eddahbi in 1973, and Al Wahda in 1995. By the way, the Al Wahda Dam is the second-largest dam in Africa and the largest in Morocco.
Today, Ukrainian specialists are involved in the construction of the Sendje HPP in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea. The project, with an installed capacity of 200 MW, will become the largest in the country, supplying electricity not just for Equatorial Guinea but also for neighboring countries.
4. UN level
As a co-founding member of the United Nations, Ukraine took an active part in supporting the decolonization and the national liberation of African countries.
The diplomats of the Ukrainian SSR at the UN level not only co-authored numerous resolutions and amendments to international conventions but also actively advocated for the rights of the captive nations of the world. The Ambassador of the Ukrainian SSR to the UN, Hennadii Udovenko, was the Vice-Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid.
5. Ukrainian-African Alumni Club
During the 2019/2020 academic year, 23 thousand students from African countries (or 30% of the total number of foreign students) studied in Ukraine, mainly from Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, and Algeria.
The first Moroccans came to Ukraine to study at local universities in the 1970s. And in 2017, they became the second largest group among all international students (11.5%), outnumbered only by students from India. Ukrainian higher education enjoys a high reputation in Morocco. The share and the growth in the number of students from year to year evidence this, with the correction that this data is from before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Moroccans study, among others, in medical and pharmaceutical institutions and in technical universities in different cities of Ukraine. Ukrainians, in turn, popularize educational opportunities by participating in educational exhibitions and forums held in Morocco. In particular, in student forums in Casablanca and Marrakech.
There are two more African countries in the top 10 regarding the number of students studying in Ukraine. While students from Morocco rank second in number, students from Nigeria rank fifth, and Egypt – eighth.
6. Everything Can Be Art
Another student worth mentioning is Pompilio Hilario, better known as Gemuhe. In 1985, he was one of four students from Mozambique who were sent to Kyiv to study art at the university. After a year of study, he received a bachelor’s degree in art from the Kyiv Institute of Fine Arts and a master’s from the Ukrainian Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1993, Pompilio Hilario returned to Mozambique, where he and a friend founded a gallery in Maputo to showcase their work and that of other artists. And in 2002, he was one of the young artists who founded MUVART (movimento de arte contemporaneia). This movement promotes contemporary art in Mozambique by transforming everyday objects into art objects and adding modern touches to traditional Mozambican art.
Gemuce has worked as a teacher at the Escola Nacional de Artes Visuais and is currently a lecturer in the Fine Arts course at the Instituto Superior de Arte e Cultura. He has also held more than ten solo exhibitions worldwide.
7. Inspired by Africa
African countries have also inspired Ukrainian artists. For instance, Ukrainian and French artist Zinaida Serebriakova was so fascinated by Morocco that she created more than 300 works during her travels there in 1928 and 1932. Among them are cityscapes, sketches of Marrakech, Fez, and Casablanca, as well as portraits of the residents.
Another example is the contemporary Ukrainian writer Serhii Synhaivskyi, who in 2016 released the novel “The Road to Asmara”, based on actual events witnessed by the author. From 1984 to 1987, Synhaivskyi was a military interpreter in Ethiopia during the Eritrean War of Independence.
The novel consists of two parts: a contemporary story and a love story set in Ethiopia amidst famine and war that is hardly remembered today despite the direct involvement of the USSR. The brutal events with resemblance to what is happening in Ukraine today.
8. On the Bookshelves
Visit Ukrainian bookstores, and you will find a selection of translated works by various African authors. For example, books by the Nigerian feminist writer, poet, and lecturer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is called the most prominent of “a number of critically acclaimed young English-language authors who have succeeded in drawing the attention of a new generation of readers to African literature”.
In 2018, her work “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” was published in Ukrainian. In addition, you can read her collection “We Should All Be Feminists” in an e-book.
The novel “The Fishermen” by Nigerian novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma has also been translated into Ukrainian. This is the author’s most famous work. New York Times called Obioma “the successor of Chinua Achebe” (one of the founders of modern Nigerian literature, winner of the International Booker Prize) and Foreign Policy included him in the list of “100 Global Thinkers” in 2015.
9. To Protect the Borders
Another area in which Ukraine and African countries cooperated for the first time long before 2022 is the military. For example, in 1979, a Ukrainian, Mykhailo Chmykhov, stood at the origins of the Mozambican Air Force.
Mozambique, a few years earlier, had gained its independence, and the young pilots were revolutionary and gave them all to learn how to defend the airspace of the young republic. Mykhailo Chmykhov was not only an instructor but also performed reconnaissance missions, trained combat teams, and patrolled the border.
In Soviet times, many fighters of the FRELIMO, the Mozambican Liberation Front, currently in power, were trained on Ukrainian soil.
10. Faster, Higher, Stronger
Sport is also a major point of connection between Ukraine and African countries. For example, six people from Morocco and more than 50 from Nigeria have played for Ukrainian football clubs. Among them FC Dynamo Kyiv, FC Zorya Luhansk, FC Metalist Kharkiv, FC Olimpik Donetsk.
It is also worth mentioning Zhan Beleniuk, a Greco-Roman wrestler and Honored Master of Sports of Ukraine – and a Ukrainian with Rwandan roots. Beleniuk is a multiple world and European champion, champion of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and silver medalist of the 2016 Rio Olympics. And to top it all off, he is also a politician: Beleniuk became the first of African origin in the Ukrainian Parliament.
This is just a part of the connections that can be found between African countries and Ukraine, both throughout history and today. They show that these relations began long ago, and they can bring a lot of positive outcomes to all the participants. Therefore, today, we hope they will only get stronger.