Nineteen-year-old Olga Nechytaylo has lived in six countries and attended too many schools for her to remember, but she says one gets used to not having a “permanent” home after a while.
“There are good and bad things about always having to move,” says the eldest daughter of Ukrainian ambassador to Malaysia, Olexander Nechytaylo. “On the one hand we get to experience so many different aspects of life and we get to compare our own culture with others, but on the other hand, you have to keep starting from scratch each time you are posted to a new country.”
Olga is currently a student at one of the universities in Malaysia. Her brother Jeremy was born in Ukraine, and got to spend nine years growing up in its capital city, Kyiv.
For Jeremy, “home” in undoubtedly Ukraine, although he has grown extremely fond of mamak food over the last three years living in Kuala Lumpur.
“I still miss the food in Ukraine. I also really like that we have seasons there – like Spring – here it is just too hot! And I do miss other things, for instance, in Ukraine we have a really good infrastructure for sport,” says the 14-year-old who plays tennis and football.
Jeremy, who goes to an international school in Ampang can speak Ukrainian, Russian, English and Indonesian, and has no trouble assimilating into new environments
Mum Triana says: “Jeremy gets along very easily with people so he doesn’t really have any problems,” and adds that both her children have very different personalities.
“It was a bit more challenging for Olga, but she has learnt to adjust after a while. Now she is very independent, after spending four years studying in the UK on her own, doing her GCSEs and A levels. But we pleaded with her to come and live with us here in Malaysia … we missed her terribly!”
Triana, who is Indonesian, and Olexander first met in Indonesia when the latter was posted to Jakarta as part of the advance team sent to set up the first Ukrainian Embassy in the Asean region in the mid 1990s.
The first time they moved to Beijing, it was a little challenging for the couple as they had to get used to the cultural differences and also the different climate.
“We were going from 34°C in Jakarta to Beijing’s -4°C! It was also Triana’s first winter experience.”“I didn’t have any proper warm clothing,” Triana remembers, laughing.
“But it’s always exciting for me when we have to go somewhere new. The first one or two years is a bit of a struggle, but then you get used to the new country and after that period, you settle in comfortably.”
The family jokingly refers to themselves as “professional packers” as they have become so adept at the job.
Triana shares that leaving Indonesia was not all that difficult for her. “I was ready to have a family. And Beijing was still in Asia, so it was not so intimidating.”
The beautiful mum says that they have always taken the job of looking after their children in their stride. “It was no real problem raising the kids – we’ve always done it on our own. Our families have, of course, been supportive, but when it comes to the day to day bringing up, it’s always been just us.”
Triana enjoys the social aspect of her role as an ambassador’s wife, and keeps busy with
SOHOM, the local association of Spouses of Heads of Missions which she now helms.
“I enjoy doing this sort of thing. We have coffee mornings, cultural visits, charity events and we do volunteer work to help us integrate with the local culture,” Triana shares, explaining that the registered body now has 53 members.
Man on a mission
This is the ambassador Olexander’s second stint in Malaysia. He was here from 2005 to 2009, when he was a counsellor in the embassy.
“We obviously like it here … there are very few things not to like about Malaysia! The food, the culture, people, climate … everything is good,” says Olexander, who is somewhat of a durian connoisseur.
“We all love durian,” Olexander says, adding that each time they have foreign visitors they are sure to take them to a local stall to sample the king of fruits.
Along with his official duties in Malaysia, Olexander also enjoys the many opportunities to explore diplomacy through food and culture.
“We try and organise different events, for example last year we brought in designer Oksana Polonets who was able to showcase her line of fashion using the traditional embroidery called Vyshyvanka. We had a fashion show at a local hotel and invited everyone,” Olexander shared, adding that the response was very promising.
This year he is planning a film festival and also hopes to bring Oksana back for another show as she is keen on fusing Vyshyvanka with local costumes like the sari and cheongsam.
Olexander’s primary tasks as ambassador are threefold from keeping tabs on the MH17 investigations, and working together with Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium to build public awareness about the judicial processes and evidence finding pertaining to the tragedy; to working on bilateral trade expansion and finally advocating the transfer of technology between both countries.
Olexander is pleased with the growing numbers of Ukrainians coming as tourists to Malaysia (15,000 per annum), and would like to encourage more Malaysians to visit his home country – which incidentally is known for its “grains and brains” because of its wealth of agriculture and IT skills.
“We have six Unesco World Heritage sites and the food there is amazing … we’re one of the fastest growing travel destinations,” he says, and the family chimes in with names of their favourite places such as the beautiful history city of Lviv (it’s the “City of chocolate and coffee” says Triana) and the port city of Odesa (known for its beaches and architecture).