The Volhynia-born Mykhailo Skybytsky is a symbolic figure in Peru. As the Zaporizhia-based researcher Hanna Cherkaska says in her blog, he, a military engineer by education, arrived in Venezuela in the 1820s and volunteered for the army of Simon Bolivar. In the Battle of Ayacucho, which took placke in Peru on December 9, 1824, and sealed the outcome of the liberation war against the Spanish colonizers, the troops under Skybytsky’s command achieved a great success. The Ukrainian received a high military decoration, Bust of the Liberator, for courage and heroism personally from Bolivar. According to Cherkaska, when Skybytsky came to Lviv in the 1830s, the Austrian police arrested and turned him over to the Russian authorities. Emperor Nicholas I ordered the heroic Ukrainian to be banished to Vyatka. Skybytsky was out of favor with the Russian government at the time. On the contrary, present-day Russian diplomats in Peru are saying that the longtime history of relations with that Latin American country begins with Skybytsky whom they present as a Russian citizen.
We came to know about the diplomatic struggle over the Volhynian from Oleksandr Mykhalchuk who served as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Peru from March 2013 to February 2017. In the fall of this year, Alberto Salas Barahona, the non-resident Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Peru to Ukraine (residing in Warsaw), handed to Mr. Mykhalchuk his country’s highest civil award, Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun of Peru, for a special contribution to the strengthening of bilateral relations between Ukraine and Peru. The Day asked Mr. Mykhalchuk about the current state of Ukrainian-Peruvian relations and the embassy’s efforts to improve the image of Ukraine in that South American country.
WORKING WITH HISTORIANS AND THE MEDIA
Mr. Mykhalchuk, what do you think were your main achievements during your mission in Peru?
“During my term of office, the embassy, like the rest of Ukraine’s foreign diplomatic institutions, was doing its work. Efforts were made to develop the political dialog and mutually advantageous cooperation with Peru and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. An important aspect of our embassy’s activities was furnishing reliable information about events in Ukraine to Peru’s officials, the diplomatic corps accredited in Lima, and the public at large. We paid special attention to this work in order to counter the powerful Russian propaganda and reject its mendacious claims. Emphasis was put on Russia’s continuing aggression, never-ending violations of the Minsk Agreements and support for militants in eastern Ukraine, the rights and freedoms of Crimean Tatars on the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea, the illegal persecutions, arrests and trials of Ukrainian citizens who became political prisoners of and hostages to Russia.
“An important result of the work aimed at improving Ukraine’s image was erection of a monument to a Ukrainian, Mykhailo Skybytsky, on one of the central alleys in Lima’s municipality of Comas. More than 200 years ago, our compatriot volunteered to fight for the independence of South America from Spanish colonizers. He won undying fame in the Battle of Ayacucho on December 9, 1824. He was awarded a high decoration of the Peruvian state for the heroism he displayed in this battle. Thanks to close cooperation with the embassy, military historians at Peru’s Ministry of Defense managed to restore historical justice. They proved in their research that Skybytsky was a Ukrainian, not a Russian, which top Russian officials had always claimed. This particularly applies to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who always emphasized during his visits to Lima that Russian-Peruvian bilateral relations had deep historical roots and his compatriot ‘Mikhail Skibitskiy’ had fought for the independence of Peru.
“It is difficult to imagine how the unveiling of a monument to the Ukrainian hero in Lima angered Russian diplomats. They held incessant meetings with Peru’s military historians in an attempt to convince them that Skybytsky was Russian. But to no avail – the Peruvian people learned the truth about the gallant Ukrainian. From now on, Peruvian schoolchildren will be able to know about our compatriot Mykhailo Skybytsky and his heroism from the new history manuals in the chapters dealing with the liberation struggle of Peru, particularly the Battle of Ayacucho.”
What about Russian propaganda in Peru with respect to the events of today?
“The Russian Federation’s embassy in Peru has a powerful team. They are spreading misleading information about the events in Ukraine. The Russian side keeps on claiming that there is no aggression on the part of Russia but there is a domestic conflict in Ukraine, when the Ukrainian government is fighting against the Russian-speaking population of Donetsk and Luhansk… So we have to refute this disinformation and explain what is really going on in our state, speak on the radio and television, and contribute articles to Peruvian newspapers. At present, the Peruvian political circles and public are generally aware of the fact that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is not domestic – it is a consequence of Russia’s aggressive actions.
“I was very pleased to see that Peru was one of the 100 countries that voted for the resolution on Ukraine’s territorial integrity in March 2014 at the UN General Assembly. The Peruvian government has qualified Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a gross violation of the basic principles of international law enshrined in the UN Charter and other international legal documents.”
UKRAINIAN ENGINE RECORD
How are the Peruvian-Ukrainian relations developing now? In what fields do we have ties?
“Ukraine and Peru have concluded 25 agreements. But, in my view, the two countries are not making full use of the existing potential to establish proper cooperation in the fields of mutual interest, such as aviation, space exploration, culture, education, etc. I think that cooperation under the agreement on military-technical cooperation, which came into force in January 2014, is very promising. Back in the Soviet era, Peru purchased about 20 Antonov aircraft which now need to be serviced, repaired, or modernized.
“The Peruvian side is also showing keen interest in buying the products of the Ukrainian Motor Sich company, one of the world’s premier manufacturers of aircraft engines. Motor Sich opened a regional office in Lima in 2014, which promotes implementation of the project to supply new-generation helicopter engines to that country. They are very powerful and can lift a helicopter to the altitude of 8,000 meters in difficult mountainous conditions. Incidentally, a Peruvian Armed Forces helicopter equipped with a Ukrainian engine has set a South American record, flying over the Andes at the altitude of almost eight kilometers. Other machines failed to reach this height.”