The Ukraine-Australia bilateral relationship has rapidly developed at the government-to-government level since late 2013, including as a result of the shared tragedy and challenge of MH17.

Australia has been a strong advocate in the international arena of Ukraine’s democratisation and territorial sovereignty, and an active provider of direct support to Ukraine.

Recent milestones in the relationship include: the strong Australian presence in Ukraine in response to MH17 events including the relationships formed by its Minister for Foreign Affairs, diplomatic and military officials; the announcement of an interim Embassy in Kyiv and the appointment of a Kyiv-based Ambassador; the high-profile and very successful visit of the President of Ukraine to Australia following G20, and; the establishment of the Australia-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce, including the appointment of its Kyiv-based President.

At the same time, observers have noted several aspects about the relationship going forward.

First, much of the relationship between the two countries is currently seen through the prism of violent events and imported conflict in eastern Ukraine. This prism – which all hope is temporary – obscures the view of Ukraine’s fast-moving reform process, its adoption of democratic values, and its desire for economic liberalisation. That in turn acts as a barrier to the consideration of Australian opportunities in Ukraine (and vice versa) in areas such as international education, mining services, meat and agriculture etc, as well as cultural and social exchange.

Second, due to elite control of authority structures and lack of a genuine democratic processes in Ukraine in its post-Soviet period, the development of civil society in independent Ukraine – as well as that of truly liberalised and competitive economic structures – has been somewhat stunted. Leading up to and following the events of the Maidan, it is clear that strengthening Ukraine’s social capital and civic capabilities (including through NGOs in areas such as governance, transparency, integrity and anti-corruption) is an important way to safeguard the progress of democracy.

OzUke will be a strong demonstration that the reform process in Ukraine is a positive and continuing project, that the civil society and commercial enterprise continue to thrive, and that there are significant opportunities for relationships at the NGO and B2B levels.