Interview Sofiya Kayinska

“Please cancel all business with Russia”

Sofiya Kayinska, Acting Director of the Lviv Convention Bureau: "We are not a colony, but a proud and independent country with democratic views!" Photo: Lviv Convention Bureau

Sofiya Kayinska, Acting Director of the Lviv Convention Bureau: We are not a colony, but a proud and independent country with democratic views! Image: Lviv Convention Bureau

Sofiya Kayinska is Acting Director of the Lviv Convention Bureau in Ukraine, located 70 km east of Poland. In the interview on 6 May 2022, she talks about the war and unimaginable pain, Kyiv as the capital of freedom, the importance of visibility as well as personal contacts and how the events industry can help.

tw tagungswirtschaft: Sofiya, how are you? Sofiya Kayinska: We feel relatively safe in Lviv. It is very difficult to understand that we live in a parallel reality: the world is recovering after the pandemic and the meetings industry is trying to get back to normal. On 18 February, we wanted to launch our support package for conferences to be held in Ukraine in 2022. My only concern then was if it would be successful, but then Putin started a war of aggression in Ukraine on 24 February. People are being killed, shelled, the Russian army is destroying the cities … In the first days of the war, I decided that our focus is now on informing the world about our situation and how the world can support us.

How can the events industry support you? Right now: please cancel all business with Russia. All the events, all products, all services they provide, for example music, apps, PCO services, etc. Suspend and cancel their membership in official organizations and associations. Urge your governments to make tough decisions. We see thousands of people taking to the streets and demonstrating. We are thankful for that. I think it will also be effective if institutions write official letters demanding to support Ukraine with actions, with weapons and fighter jets. If this help is not provided by the decision-makers, more countries will be attacked, such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia: Russia does not recognize any borders. After Ukraine wins, we will be happy to host meetings in Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, and in other cities. Please support us! For congresses that rotate, please choose your Ukrainian partners, support their bids and hold meetings in Ukraine. Some of us do not have the opportunity to visit international trainings, but we are eager to learn. Please grant us reduced participation fees and scholarships.

“If this help is not provided by the decision-makers, more countries will be attacked, such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia: Russia does not recognize any borders.”

Sofiya Kayinska is Acting Director of the Lviv Convention Bureau

You are planning to host events after the war. Considering the lead time for international congresses, are you bidding for congresses? We are grateful to those conferences and congresses that decided to move their 2022 meetings to next year. It is a tough time for all Ukrainians and sometimes it is not the time to ask our local community to start the bidding process. Many people are working and volunteering, doctors are treating injured military and civilians … On the other hand, when will be the time if not now? That’s why we are bidding for the years 2023 to 2026. We are checking to which conferences and congresses we have contacts or started communication last year and we will resume our work with bidding. Right now, we have a unique experience of working during the war. Some people decided to organize online conferences to support Ukrainian science and search for new options of cooperation.

Lviv is located in the west of Ukraine. What is the situation like? We feel relatively safe in the west. The city became a hub for humanitarian help. Helpers gather here and disperse later to cities in need. It is a meeting point for volunteers, the place for diplomatic missions and international journalists, and of course it is a provisional home for temporarily displaced persons. Some of them stay for a few days and think about living in that region or going abroad, some of them think about starting a new life in Lviv. Businesses from the east are trying to continue working in the west. We know that we need to build relationships and communication now, so that we can benefit from results later.

Lviv is located 70 km east of Poland. It is the sixth-largest city in Ukraine with a population of 717,510. Lviv is one of the main cultural centres of Ukraine. During the war, the city became a hub for humanitarian help. Photo: Lviv Convention Bureau

What is the situation in the rest of Ukraine, in convention cities like Kyiv, Odesa and Mariupol? Kyiv is still standing and fighting. It is the capital of Ukraine or, as we say, a capital of freedom. People even live in subway stations because these are among the safest places in the city. The two cities Bucha and Irpin also suffered a lot. Just recently, the Russians retreated from these cities and we saw horrible photos – the result of their stay. Dead bodies of civilians in the streets, burnt and destroyed infrastructure ... unimaginable pain. Odesa is fighting for itself even though it is being attacked from the sea. I hope you will have a chance to see the beauty of this city as well as the beauty of Lviv. Mariupol is completely destroyed. It will take many years before the city is cleared of bombs and rebuilt. Without humanitarian aid and green corridors, the Russian army took the lives of many people. They do not care who they kill, whether it is a child, a woman or a soldier.

Verified information about Ukrainian congress cities according to Sofiya Kayinska

Are you in touch with your colleagues at the Kyiv Convention Bureau? What do they tell you about their situation and infrastructure? We are not in touch with the Kyiv Convention Bureau, but we have contact to the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine. Of course, Kyiv is under attack. Hopefully, the infrastructure will be rebuilt soon. Ukraine is a member of the International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) and belongs to the Central European Chapter (CEC). How important are ICCA and the CEC chapter these days for your city and your country? Belonging to ICCA means being verified by associations and organizations worldwide. We share the same values, aims and standards. Being a member of ICCA means counting on the support of your colleagues who share knowledge in peaceful times and give support during the war. If it weren’t for Gorazd Cad, we wouldn’t be so visible, I think. Conventa Trend Bar was the first platform where I spoke with event pros about the war. And at that moment, we realized we have a voice in our industry and can spread information. If it weren’t for Karina Grützner, we wouldn’t be connected and have this interview. It was also important for us that the ICCA board suspended Russian memberships. Our regional director Tamara Bernstein was in contact with us and informed me about the board’s decision after they received my letter to suspend Russia. If it weren’t for Krzysztof Celuch, maybe there wouldn’t be “GMID United for Ukraine” marathon … personal contacts, getting to know each other, are very important in this world.

„GMID-2022. United for Ukraine“

On 19 April 2022, the Lviv Convention Bureau ran a digital event live on Facebook. This was an extension of the Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) called „GMID-2022. United for Ukraine“. For the YouTube recording, go here. Photo: Screenshot

You and Lidia Fedchuk, Head of Lviv Tourist Information Center, Lviv Tourism Development, were joined to the annual conference of City Destinations Alliance (formerly European Cities Marketing) via video. What was the message of your talk? First, to spread the truth. We all read different magazines and online sources. Some news are fake. Our task was to show our colleagues the true facts and horror that Ukrainians experience in this war, so they know that the war is not somewhere, it is here, in Europe. We, their colleagues, are experiencing it. Second – no business with Russia. Having business with Russia means sponsoring the war. Third – we are a brave nation and we do need support from the world. Associations and official organizations have influence on governments. We urge to use this impact to support Ukraine on governmental level and to help as individuals with donations to the army or humanitarian aid. And we wanted to thank each and everyone helping in diverse ways. Which other trade associations invited you and how important is visibility for you right now? At the beginning, it was important that our community of event professionals knew the truth and why it is important to cancel business with Russia. Associations now cancel or suspend memberships of Russians. And calling on governments was also important. Our messages at the beginning of war and now are slightly different and they’ve changed from an information campaign to invitations to come to us after the war, but the fundamentals remain the same. After our speech at the City Destinations Alliance, we repeated that one more time at the conference of Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO). It is very important to be visible. The war is not over yet, but there are less and less news about Ukraine and we fully understand that. Our task is to remind everybody about the situation in Ukraine and to inform that we are ready to welcome you in Ukraine as soon as the war is over.

Standing ovations for Sofiya Kayinska and Lidia Fedchuk, Head of Lviv Tourist Information Center, Lviv Tourism Development, after their presentation at the annual conference of City Destinations Alliance. Photos: City DNA

What does your (working) day look like? From the beginning of the war, I joined the team of the Lviv Tourism Office where we launched the Lviv Media Center which later became the Ukraine Media Center. For a month, half of my day was about helping journalists from over the world, the other half was about connecting with our international colleagues from the industry, writing official letters and organizing the work of a convention bureau. Now I am slowly getting back to my main work, but it is still a challenge for me to start writing bids again – many people are volunteering, healing people – it seems it is not the time for conventions in Ukraine. But it one of the peculiarities of our industry that events have lead times of two to three years. It is scary to write about things that can be destroyed any minute. It overwhelms me to see and read about the support of the world. I am proud to be Ukrainian and share knowledge about Lviv and about Ukraine. The Lviv Convention Bureau team continues preparing information about the current situation and planning the future. You are only 30 years old. How are you coping with this extraordinary situation? I took up my new job at the Lviv Convention Bureau in September 2018 without any tourism background and I started in January of this year as Acting Director – learning by doing was my method. Books about crisis management do not prepare you for managing convention bureaus during a war. Our industry plans several years ahead. Maybe that is what helps us to think about the future and not be stuck in the moment. And of course, nothing of that would be possible without our defenders, who give us strength, hope and confidence that we can plan our future activities.

Sofiya Kayinska, Acting Director of the Lviv Convention Bureau: Books about crisis management do not prepare you for managing convention bureaus during a war. Photo: Lviv Convention Bureau

What about event organisers, venue managers, hoteliers and caterers … What do they do now? The city's MICE industry has transformed since the first days of the war. Professional event organizers, conference halls, catering companies restrained their work. They have become volunteers who organize logistics at the railway station, coordinate the work with internally displaced people, feed the military and shelters, work in humanitarian storages, purchase ammunition, medicine, and things for daily basic care. All involve international partners and organize charitable fundraisers. This is a huge daily work. It evokes respect and gratitude. These are reliable people with whom you can do business in the future.

People in the European Union are impressed by the Ukrainians’ fight for their country and our democracy in Europe. Where do you get the strength? It is a kind of magic bond in our DNA that unites Ukrainians. We may have different points of view, but when it comes to our freedom – everyone is united. Just have a look at our history: 1990: Granite revolution, 2004: Orange Revolution, 2013: Revolution of Dignity. During all this time, we were against the policy of our government to agree to play according to Russian rules. We know that this is not how we want to live. We are not a colony, but a proud and independent country with democratic views! Humor is also our strong side to keep our heads clear. We are inspired by our armed forces and territory defense, by our volunteers and strong leaders. On 22 February 2022, just two days before Russia invaded Ukraine, the Lviv Convention Bureau published the bulletin “What should I do in an emergency situation?” A coincidence? Our European partners and Ukrainian government warned about the situation which was getting increasingly tense and that Russian troops were moving closer to Ukraine – as Russia had already occupied Crimea in 2014, and Donetsk and Luhansk. Then the diplomats moved from Kyiv to Lviv. Two weeks before the war, Lviv started to prepare shelters, checked alarm systems, organized first-aid courses and some of us had shooting exercises. There was also information on how to prepare emergency bags. Some people took it seriously and prepared for the war, some prepared on the first day of war with the sound of sirens in the air. What we did not expect was a full-scale war, missiles above our heads all over Ukraine, blocked cities without humanitarian aid, dead civilians, shelled maternity hospitals. Even in Lviv we can have three to four air alarms a day. We don’t know where the missiles will go down and what damage they will cause. Two missiles hit the oil station and the plant one day; on the other day they hit civilian objects – people died and there were injured; and the recent one, on 3 May, they hit three electrical substations. No electricity, water and mobile connection was available in certain parts of the city for some hours. Fortunately, Lviv was prepared for this and the services have been restored soon.

When I hear that, I can’t think of a segue to my last question ... It might be an awkward question, but will we see you at the tradeshow IMEX from 31 May to 2 June 2022 at Messe Frankfurt? We are planning to come with a Ukrainian stand. Thanks to IMEX organizers, we have this opportunity. Let’s see how the situation changes during May. We know that the war will be over some day. We know that bidding and connecting is a long-term project. The more personal contacts in our industry we have – the more trust we can build. When you see us at IMEX – please, don’t talk to us in a pitying tone. Let’s meet, get to know each other and think about what projects we can do together in Lviv, in Kyiv, in Ukraine. We have so many experts in Ukraine. Give us a chance to have business with you in the future. And future cooperation starts today.

Kerstin Wünsch

The Lviv Convention Bureau

The official convention bureau of Lviv was created to promote conference opportunities and support companies and associations in holding conference and corporate events. The team provides free and independent expert support in planning and preparing business events in Lviv and helps meeting planners to choose partners thanks to a wide network of contacts between the local community, authorities and governments. The Lviv Convention Bureau is a member of the ICCA – International Convention and Congress Association and belongs to the Central European Chapter.

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