The wife of the Ukrainian Ambassador to Tehran is one of her country’s most active media figures who, given her backboned perseverance, managed to take effective steps to drive her goals to effect. For years, she hosted morning programs on the Ukrainian national TV for which she finds endeavor and perseverance influential factors. In this interview, Mrs. Burdyliak not only describes her loving perspective toward life but also stresses the role of patience and selflessness in solidifying a marriage. As the wife of the Ukrainian Ambassador to Iran, she believes the people of the two countries do not have a clear image of one another and even the image of the Iranian women on the internet is way different from what one sees in person in Tehran, and unlike most news on the net, no one finds exhausted, depressed women.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with the Wife of the Ukrainian Ambassador to Iran,
Mrs. Ira Burdyliak
First off and as an introduction of you to our readers, please tell us where you were born? How did you spend your youth?
My youth coincided with the 90s aggressions when the former Soviet Union collapsed and that’s why I was socially active back then.
When I was young and owing to the coincidence of those years with such historical era, I became fascinated by journalism so much that I studied it in college, but one thing led to another and I went to television.
Journalism today differs vastly from what was called journalism 20 years ago. I mean we did everything ourselves then and gathered whatever news that was needed.
I started working in Sumy in Eastern Ukraine and since my parents were there, I grew up there, too. After that, I found my way into Ukraine’s National Channel 1 and since 1997 until 1999, I hosted Good Morning Ukraine. When that time passed, I met Mr. Ambassador and fell in love with him. He wasn’t an Ambassador when we met, of course.
You went to television when it had not been long since the demise of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine. How did those events impact your television programs?
When I went to the Ukrainian National TV, it was the country’s most powerful channel and covered almost 96% of Ukraine. There were not so many channels to provide such broad coverage.
Politics was not appealing to me and that’s why I chose to work at the cultural division. My program focused on the relationship between parents and children, and I must add that throughout my whole career, I have worked in the areas of kids and culture.
Did you stay away from politics and become interested in culture because of the heightened political crises in Ukraine?
Yes, you’re right. I stayed clear of politics. I instinctively felt that politics was not stable enough and is changing all the time, esp. back at the time when Ukraine was on its way to development. In fact, it was pretty easy to ascend up in the sky and fall headlong on the ground through politics.
When the Soviet Union was going into demise, how did you follow the news?
In the soviet time and because of the circumstance that governed the developments, we did not have any means of contact including the internet, and that is why we were neither happy nor sad about this unknown change. We knew, in fact, that things were changing but no idea if it was for the better or for worse.
I lived my life in the broadest sense of it back then, since I was young and in love with music, friendship and life.
You earned quite a good position in Ukraine’s National TV and made it to the most popular morning program on Channel 1. Did you have anyone in particular to back you up in this way?
I wished to go to Kiev and work there just like all the girls who worked at local channels then.
I ran into an employment ad for the position of manager’s secretary at Channel 1. Later I met the manager and he asked me why I wanted to work in that area. I responded, “I want to move to Kiev and work here, because I was a host and journalist on our local channel and I would like to try it here, too.”
I went to the studio after 15 minutes, they took a voice test of me and after half an hour, said that I could be a host. It was unbelievable, because I directly found my way into the studio from the street and managed to get hosting as simple as that.
Were your beautiful look and nice voice effective on this choice?
Beauty and nice voice are not bold and effective factors, in my opinion, it is the audience you talk to who should like you.
In my personal opinion, a man’s affection for a woman reaches a zenith only once he learns of her level of thoughtfulness, intelligence and interior.
I have always tried in my marital life and it has never been less than important to me to not only look beautiful to my husband but also be attractive to him. Every man likes beautiful looks, but the real men are the ones who like women that are understanding, intelligent and communicative and can talk to them.
When and how did you meet Mr. Ambassador for the first time?
Our story was not an easy one, for we had previous experiences. Both he and I had married in the past. He had a son and I had a daughter who is 22 years old now.
Our meeting goes back to the air show of the Independence Day of Ukraine where we were with friends and met and now, it has been 19 years we have been together.
Did you impress him first and was it him who drew your attention?
One of my most important factors in choosing my spouse was intelligence. The first moment I laid eyes on him, saw his look and paid attention to what he was talking about, I quickly felt he was the man of my dreams and tried to make contacts and up to this point, I have never regretted that.
I have this feeling that you try so hard to get what you want. How successful have you been in this direction in life?
That is true. I always put myself face to face with the objective and try my best to get it. When I met my husband and got married, I realized that I had to use all my power to prepare everything and even help him get promoted to the level of an ambassador. However, diplomatic work is difficult and many factors are effective on a diplomat’s progress and growth.
How long did you continue in television?
Up to early 1999 when my husband’s first mission to China began and he was recommended the position of first political secretary at the Ukrainian Embassy in Beijing.
I know hosting is difficult. Sometimes a relative dies, but the show must go on smoothly in a way that the viewers would not understand the shreds of sadness. Tell us about the difficulties of working at the Ukrainian television.
I would like to tell you one of my memories that relates to one day after I met my husband. Once I went to the studio and the make-up artist intended to work on my face to begin the show. Everybody around me was amazed at all the cheerfulness, smile and mirth glowing in my face wondering what love that was to affect me so intensely.
It went so far that I put the script away during the show and improvised about love, friendship and positive things and my performances got to be happier and more energetic day by day, only because he had turned up in my life.
Women’s characters are created in a way that no professional opportunity or victory can make them as happy as when love appears in their lives.
There are certainly some readers whose first marriage may have ended up in failure for any possible reason and they are looking to embark upon a new relationship. What factors should they take into account for their second choice?
My suggestion is mutual endeavor on both parts in a marriage. Excitement may be good at some points, but it can leave some scars in life, too.
I recommend that they try hard, love each other and get ahold of all the excitement. That is not the experience I earned in my first marriage, but it is common in every marriage. The second principle I want to tell you like a secret is selflessness the two sides should show at certain points and if they are selfish, that marriage is undoubtedly doomed to fail and they both reach a point where they have to part ways.
When you were in China with your husband, you made efforts to play a vital role in developing cultural ties between Ukraine and China. Of among your efforts, one could point to your role in holding the art exhibition in Shanghai. Could you enlighten us about your approach there?
Shanghai was my first experience in holding cultural events which was not easy, of course, but was useful in the meantime.
My activities started when I met with the Head of All-China Women’s Federation whose party was named “Skirt Party” and worked out important issues and matters and were very influential in China. The reason why they were named so was because they had gathered all important Chinese women from cinema, business, economy and other sections together leading them within the framework of this organization.
We held the first exhibitions in two halls. The first hall hosted the works of over 50 credited, renowned painters and the second hall was where a great number of successful women in cultural and social fields had come together. That was a fruitful project and a great fund was raised for the cancer kids in China.
As a matter of fact, it turned into a charity project. The next event was a fashion runway in which we as the diplomats’ wives decided to wear traditional Chinese dress, walk on the stage and pay tribute to the Chinese culture and traditions which was a great success, too.
In an interview on the sidelines of the Shanghai Art Exhibition, you said that Beijing is your first love. What factors made you fall in love with Beijing so much?
Diplomats forge a deep bond with the first city they are stationed in, and to me, of course, China was like a whole other planet.
I am a European and they made me eat with chopsticks and speak a language that has only four vowels. I had to learn to speak that language, because it was hard for me to stay quiet.
Did you learn Chinese?
Yes, I learned it on the streets and speak it much better than English. I spoke to people there and if there was something to catch my eye, I had to ask them what it was.
What memories do you have from China?
Two children. Nothing even compares to them. Bagdan was born in Beijing and Lata, my youngest daughter in Shanghai. My eldest daughter lives in a different world and wants to change the globe! Despite her age and all the ups and downs she went through, she managed to form Ukraine’s Heart Union which has created considerable changes in social life and driven the rate of heart diseases in decline.
She has a powerful character and may as well inherited my husband’s and my best features. She is now in a place which makes me totally proud of her.
My daughter does what ministries are incapable of and personally directs an organization that actively fights heart diseases and teaches people how to act when a heart condition gets to them.
Considering your experience in holding cultural events, do you have any plans to do in Iran what you did in China?
I think whoever sinks in a new culture needs to understand and fall in love with it. Also, they must strive to unfold their own culture, too. I was active based on this approach in China in all those years and I will continue doing so in Iran.
Certainly, I can’t say everything was ready for me since day one in Iran, just as other foreigners can’t, either. But my principle in life is to find the best things wherever I go and turn a blind eye at other matters.
When Mr. Ambassador put forward his credentials to President Rouhani, you were present, too. How do you assess the meeting and the atmosphere there?
Yes, it was a great exciting experience. Mr. Rouhani is a good-looking, intelligent and enlightened man.
His eyes are smart and I was impressed by his vision and saw deeply through them. I believe my husband has the same experience, because he had prepared a speech to read during the meeting which he put aside and went ad-lib. That moment, in fact, Mr. Ambassador found out about the President’s great character and decided to speak about to what extent Ukraine and Iran can be beneficial to one another.
Given your sociable spirits, how successful have you been in socializing with the Iranian people?
It was very easy. There is no difficulty for at all. I always try to interact with people through kids, culture and architecture. I tell them about my Isfahan experience where I could easily connect with people through art and that has happened a lot in Iran. Once I intended to purchase plates with miniature on them at a store; when the salesman figured my excitement and feeling about that art, we immediately spoke the same language. These things connect everyone in the world to each other.
The first time I entered Mr. Farshchian’s museum, I did not know him yet and had no idea what his work was about, whereas after some time, leaving the place was next to impossible for me.
I was there for two hours and it was just then when my passion for Iranian miniature began. It was extremely amazing and appealing to me.
I happened to have seen the faces, eyes and clouds that were drawn in the Chinese style and once I came to know Mr. Farshchian’s art, I found out that the Mongol Empire had brought the art of miniature to Iran.
Based on that, every day and step of my life in Iran is a new discovery. As time went by, I understood that Mr. Farshchian is the top miniature artist in Iran and I must say that his work is spectacular to me.
My recent meeting was with an artist miss at the Niavaran Complex who is Mr. Farshchian’s student.
Iranian musicians should also travel to Kiev to perform traditional Iranian music and display a new Iran to the people of Ukraine. I will do my best to make that happen, because young Iranian artists are very creative and capable and relying on their capabilities, they have managed to get themselves a place in contemporary art.
This is why I like for Iranian contemporary artists to come to Kiev and tell people of Iran’s contemporary art, for many people think Iran simply has roots in the past and know nothing of its contemporary art.
The truth is my husband and I do our best to extend this trend and introduce Iran’s culture and land. We will make efforts to make this possible, since we believe both countries hold a great lot of cultural commonalities. For instance, I discovered in Iran that textures on clothes are common between us and your nation. They do not just resemble one another, but sometimes they are totally alike.
When I first saw those textures at the Saadabad Complex, it looked like a diamond and while comparing it to those we have in Ukraine, I realized they look exactly the same. As I went further, I based that matter on the fact that we have common cultural roots and want to hold a scientific conference in autumn on it offering our researches. Iran supports this event, too.
The second commonality is coloring eggs both in Nowrooz and Easter Day in which patters look alike. The point is you do not see them in Russia, Belarus or other countries, but only in Ukraine and Iran.
Even our thinking style are similar. When we do research about different matters, we arrive at the conclusion that the only difference concerns the words and both sides either mean the same or slightly different. That provides exceptional simplicity in communication among people itself.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I like museums and exhibitions as well as going to concerts. The last concert I attended was at the Japanese Embassy. I also went to a concert held at the Niavaran Complex quite some time ago.
I spend most of the time at the Embassy, however, and fortunately, we have managed to turn the building upside down and there is still a lot to the end of it.
When we arrived in Iran, we came to a building in pretty bad condition, which I could never make my peace with. The consular section was in bad shape and the Embassy had to be relocated.
What Iranian foods are closer to the taste of the Ukrainian people?
We have a dish called holopsy which is like the Iranian dulma (wrap). Our cutlets are like your kebabs.
Another food of ours looks like your stew and is called holodet which is served cold and in winter, and as it is made of lamb leg cuts and looks like gelatinous due to its fat. When cold in Ukraine, it can strengthen the body.
I heard you write poems, too. Is that so?
I hadn’t done it before coming to Iran. That talent of mine came to fruition in Iran and fascinated me a great deal.
Fall and the colors red and yellow in the Saadabad Complex were very beautiful and left a great influence on me.
It was a beautiful day in autumn, but the day after that, it snowed. When I saw flowers growing from under snow, poetic feelings were springing inside me so intensely I could not get out of the house.
I had just gotten to know of Iranian miniature, vitreous enamel and the amazing textures of Hafiz’s robe and even his eyes and sight. Every one of these pushed me to write a poem in Ukrainian which is being translated now.
What reads below is part of my poems:
A bird in the golden palace, in a space dressed in enamel speaks through her wings to the fences of a golden cage that she seeks to be freed shaking the walls in craving of flying the sky; wondering if she can fly and leave or return as she knows the one who has fed her.
Is the bird you wrote a poem about you?
I sure have my golden palace here in Tehran and often fly out of it and leave; but I always come back, because I cannot live in freedom without love and family.
Iran will always remain in my heart, because God helped my poetic talent bloom here. I have written over 40 poems now; they get born themselves, inspired to me and I write them down.
I add Iranian miniature to my poems because it is very attractive to me.
I should add, of course, that I like Chinese arts very much, too, but why did I not write any poems in China? Why here? There is certainly thought, passion and energy behind that. There is a reason why I am inspired by Iranian miniatures. I love the colors in them and am deeply fascinated and energized by it.
Moreover, I would like to talk about Iran’s youth and when I compare them with our young generation, I figure they have a lot in common.
I have come across many cases in which Iranians travel to Ukraine and even get married there. There is no doubt that the young generations in Ukraine and Iran are thinking about how to stand on their own feet, but what matters even more is that today’s young generation is very different from our generation.
This generation own a good understanding and know they should help the weak, help whoever that is in need and allocate their income easily to charity work.
They know they should not spend all their money for themselves and pay it for charitable purposes.
They try without having the governmental officials’ support and attention and focus mostly on collective voluntary work. They gather in small groups and make possible big cultural, artistic, medical and educational projects doing what the authorities can’t.
How different did your image of the status of women in Iran use to be before coming to the country from now?
When I moved to Iran, I used Google just like everybody else does and searched “women in Iran”. What Google showed me was horrible!
Google only showed me exhausted, pressure-hit and unattractive women. But after that, Instagram helped me see many beautiful women who wore beautiful dresses and even hijab.
Later when I started living in northern Tehran, I realized that part of the city was like a fashion runway. I was very impressed with how beautiful a woman can look by wearing hijab.
Most Americans run propagandas against you and Russians against us. That is why we ought to analyze the information we get smartly and precisely and always try to obtain our personal account of things.
At the moment, you and I understand the nature of information and must do whatever in our power to take steps in reflecting authentic information. In fact, information can create challenge and chaos among people or go the other way around and inspire love and friendship between them. That’s why I would like for Iranian people to see Ukraine with their own eyes, pay it a visit and analyze things for themselves.
I should also say that any foreigner who comes to Iran sees an image from inside the country that differs vastly from what is cast abroad and that is why they have to personally discover the facts.