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Interview with Igor Smelyansky, Director General, Ukrposhta, Ukraine

National Postal Museum Director Elliot Gruber interviews Igor Smelyansky, Director General, Ukrposhta, Ukraine. The second part of the video (45:00 minute mark) features Director of Collections Rebecca Ben-Atar speaking with Igor Smelyansky about objects in the museum’s collection.

Interview date: May 19, 2023

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I am here today with Igor Smelyansky, the Director General of Ukrposhta, the Ukrainian Postal Service. Igor welcome to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

It's great to be back in Washington.

It's great to see you. I want to thank you not only for your time today but also what you and your entire team at Ukrposhta have been doing in these very difficult times of war where cities and towns have been devastated, even museums have been targeted. And so we really appreciate and I really think it's an honor to be with you here today.

I know people are going to want to hear about what Ukrposhta has been doing, the challenging times it's had.

I also know that given our audience, they would also be very interested in learning about the stamps that you've issued and the stories behind the stamps those that you've used to you know, to battling the odds, to overcoming adversity and of survival.

And just to make postal service cool.

Yeah, exactly, exactly. But now you started at the Ukrposhta about six years ago?

Six years ago.

Did you ever imagine being in this kind of position come February of last year?

Well I actually never imagined I would last that long as a CEO of postal service. But obviously we're never prepared for things like this. We prepared for some of the events. We have emergency plans. We had some forecast. But I don't think we would be able to prepare for anything of that magnitude.

And what was particularly challenging as the war started?

The single most difficult thing is your employees lives and people's lives. And it's something that we live with every day, where I need to make a decision where they should or should not go to work. So it's a balance between saving their lives and saving lives of millions of people. Because in Ukraine during the war postal service is more than the postal service, we do evacuations of businesses, we provide food, medicine, pensions, everything. Because if you think about the occupied and, occupied territories and the territories close to the front lines they don't have power. And when you don't have power you don't have banks working, you don't have stores open, and you have the entire infrastructure destroyed. So the postal service for them is the lifeline where we bring everything they need right away and to keep people basically living a relatively normal life obviously as much as possible.

And I remember reading about that it's not just delivering pension checks, because if you deliver a pension check and there's no bank, so how do you overcome that?

Yeah, we uh, we obviously keep it in cash so people can use it.

Again right now, we actually set a much higher goal. We want to have in 6 months, 100% digital Ukraine so that people in every single city or village can obtain those basic services. Why? Because imagine the entire infrastructure is destroyed and we obviously waiting for our counter offensive to begin but we know what's waiting for us there. So it's nothing. But people are they're waiting for our army and for Ukraine and they're waiting for the services. So how do you do it? And that's why we launch thousands of movable branches that can reach hard to reach areas. We acquired thousands of generators, Starlinks, handheld devices for our mail carriers, so they can help you know people to order whatever they need. And I said imagine a grandma, after you know bomb and shelling, she can order her favorite tea, or tablecloth, or chocolate because chocolate helps to deal with stress. As I know - among other things. So our mail carriers can take those orders and bring it next time.

So wait, they have devices that...?

Yeah we now, we already acquired over 17,000 devices. We're now finishing writing software which can, will work offline and online. And they can take any orders including stamps to uh, to bring people in those hard to reach areas. And again hopefully move away from cash. But for now the cash is the only way to operate because there is no connection there is no power.

That is, that is amazing, and, and obviously very needed.

We are paying, for example, Red Cross payments, we pay International Organization for Migration payments. Again uh, if you think about for the occupied areas, we need to bring hryvnia, Ukrainian currency to substitute Russian currency because when our army de-occupies it that's the only thing they have there. And to reintegrate them back it's important to bring that cash, important for people hold it. Not just hold it, they use it. Because once they using they're going back to the previous life you know, there are small bazaars the, like, small shops starting to operate. And so we have to restart local economy in this way and to help it grow.

So how closely do you coordinate with the other branches? You know, I'm thinking, you know, you're talking about ordering, you know, you're talking about banking, you're talking about some of these but some of these other issues are not part of Ukrposhta's business operations or at least pre pre-war they weren't.

Um, we do lots of things. Uh, we exchange bulbs because we need to reduce, as Ukraine, we need to reduce energy consumption. So we help people to exchange by now 20 million bulbs for LED bulbs. Uh, we bring as I mentioned, food, medicine, um obviously pensions, uh parcels, uh people, order parcels. People move between cities and villages. They use us to help with the move. But we do coordinate. I mean, when we need to go we have to check with our military. Uh we need to check with the special forces. We need to check with miners because the worst thing is the mining team.

Oh, okay.

Because that will be the challenge for years to come. Uh, to provide a safe place for people to come to us or for us to drive to them. So we have to make sure that, uh. That's usually why we are not uh there the next day because we're ready to go the next day city or village is freed up. We usually wait for two, three days because we have to have, you know, go ahead from uh the guys and girls that do the mining that it's safe to go. So they prepare actually our branches or the location where we can work are the first ones to, to be de-mined. So we can go and start working.

And I imagine a lot of your traditional post offices have been destroyed during the war.

Yeah, over 500 post offices. That's why, for example, now as we prepare again for counter offensive we are buying container type branches so we can drop them and start work immediately with generator and Starlink. Um we have the movable branches which come first because at the end of the day uh, you need to get your employees. They may, might not necessarily be there. Then there's obviously moral choice. Do you hire people who work with Russians? Uh, especially if, for example, Crimea it's been now for eight, nine years. Um, or Donetsk and Luhansk region? So, but um, before we get someone back they have to do security check so we service people through movable branches so they come from uh other control territories and work right away while we're doing all other things.

I'm trying to comprehend all of this, right? Uh, you know with your mail carriers, you talk about the the safety of your mail carriers, obviously the conditions change day-to-day, even moment-to-moment. What, if there is, what is a typical day like for a mail carrier? I mean do they get up and do they know where they're going for sure? Uh, I mean or maybe there that maybe that's an unfair question. There is no typical.

There is no typical. And obviously uh, we check every day per military situation. You know it could be safe today and then in 5 minutes, uh they start shelling. So it's no longer safe. So we adjust per situation. Sometimes we use now armored cars, armored vehicles to get uh, to the points. Sometimes we just...

That would take take the mail carriers?

Yeah take the mail carriers we actually now have Ukrposhta armored vehicles that uh, that go there. And um, so there's no typical day. Uh it's uh, whatever the current situation. Today before I came to you today, we already reviewed the plans. Uh, we made some decisions where we will or will not go. Uh, every morning we start uh, from restoring our branches. So I'm sure you're familiar with the theory of broken windows, right? So there should not be a broken window. So if our branches have been shelled at night we do everything we can that by lunch they operate. So, we clean up. We either restore windows or you know, close it down, and uh and stop operating.

And what was it like at the beginning of the war? Because there was so much uncertainty. I know communication and connection is very important. Uh but you know from people outside of Ukraine, you know, to get letters, to get you know, parcels was that an issue at all?

Uh it was an issue because uh we work 24 hours a day and obviously we take our mail uh overnight. Now during the war the curfew is instituted. So you cannot drive at night. For lots of reasons you cannot drive at night anymore. Uh, so what we've done is with a friend of mine who was the CEO of Ukrainian Railways, we got together and thought look remember in the old days the mail was carried by railway. Uh it was not done for like 21 years in Ukraine so we met with him in Lviv for cup of coffee and said let's just do it. And in five days without any memorandum you know we had not consulted lawyers or anybody else, he found the old postal cars uh, we repaired.

But they still existed?

Yeah apparently. Um, they restored some of the old ones. We restored the uh, loading docks. And in six days we start moving uh lots of mail by rail and I think over 10 million parcels has been moved by then including uh the humanitarian aid and everything else. So we've dealt with that. Then from the first day of the war uh, all airports have been shut down. And we had over 90 flights per day connecting Ukraine uh with the world. 50% of our export parcels were coming to the US. And it's not just uh, the parcel because it's people who sell on Amazon, Etsy, eBay. On Etsy there are 1.3 million Ukrainians. That people sell. And uh, we knew if it would stop people will lose their businesses. And uh, you know, we launch it through other countries. Uh we actually chartered our own plane from Poland. So we would bring the parcels uh, to Poland take the plane to New York and on the way back it would bring humanitarian uh, supplies. Uh so it doesn't fly uh empty. But uh you know, I think um, when people hear it it's it's not personable.

So just to give you one story, I um, I travel a lot as you imagine around Ukraine. So I went to one of the cities that was pretty hard hit. And the air sirens just went off like five minutes ago. I'm in my, in our branch and this young girl comes in uh, to the branch with the parcel box. She recognized me I wanted to take selfie for her Instagram page. Uh so I asked her what is she sending? And she says that she has a business of um selling wedding glassware in the US. And because we operating she uh maintains five families through that business. So you see we understood how important and there are like hundreds and thousands of stories like this. People in Kharkiv, uh, in Lviv, in Odesa, between the shelling they maintain their businesses and uh, they sell on these international marketplaces. And we obviously have to deliver. And uh, we do.

And the pressure you feel to deliver?

And the fun. Because we know that we deliver it, it works. And uh, you know people appreciate it. And going back to the stamps, uh, to satisfy the demand we are the first postal service to open the stores on uh, Amazon and eBay. So no postal service had ever done it.

And they all have their own.

They have, we have our own. But you know in the US people know the marketplaces that they trust and um they get used to searching. So actually eBay gave us a Rising Star Award this year for maintaining global delivery standards. So not having one airport we are maintaining global delivery standards per eBay, pretty uh tight rules. So people get their stamps as soon as possible.

That, that, it's amazing. I'm speechless really. Uh, I mean speaking of stamps uh, how many stamps were you printing prior to the war?

It was about 40 - 43 issues per year. Um, average uh was about 20 - 25,000 per issue.

And now?

Uh, in millions. But it depends. I mean it depends, you know. We had the first famous stamp at one million. Uh, the second stamp was five uh million. Five million sold out. And then the third stamp was also five. Um, the Good Evening, We Are From Ukraine! And then we thought I mean we have to bring it down. So then it was about a million. Now uh, the average design is about uh, up to 600,000, 600 - 700,000.

So speaking of that first stamp. Uh, so on February 24th Russia invades Ukraine. Ukraine um, the Russian ship Moskva goes up to Snake Island occupied by Ukrainian forces, Ukrainian land, and it asked the soldiers there to surrender. And of course there was a very famous picture that you know circulated around the world. You know, with the Ukrainian soldier saying Russia's ship, go blank yourself. How did you even think of that becoming a stamp?

Um, you know that event uh, those were the first months of the war. You know, very hard month where uh, lots of people uh, were afraid. And uh this became a symbol of our fight, right? Because it's a huge, it was the main Russian warship. Um and just a small contingent of Ukrainian border guards and Navy Seals at that island. But nevertheless they sent the Russian ship where it had to go. Um so, I thought you know this is their, that's the event that was to be stamped in the history. So um, and um I knew it was not conventional. I'm sure, uh the team was concerned that uh never in history, they actually did some search, never in history uh, there were stamps issued at least that they could find, with a certain language. Uh, but I thought you know what?

Or a certain image.

A certain image. The image actually came later. Um because when we, I said look we have to launch it. Uh, we did not have an image. And we asked uh different uh, artists to draw it for a national competition. And um, so people send us over 500 drawings, even kids. There are some really cool ones, uh, even harsher than the one that we printed. So uh, there were some you know, harsher ones. And uh, then we picked I think five leading designs and ask people to vote. Uh, so over 8,000 people voted for the design that now uh is famous uh for the stamp. I actually voted for another design but you know people voted for this one, uh for you know there are many stamps that we issued when people voted. Only once I got the design right. So, but you see we're a democratic country.


So if people vote for the particular design or particular theme, uh that's the design they get.

Are you going to do a book of those stamps that did not make it into an official stamp?

Probably. There are some really good designs. You probably seen three stamps that we issued were designed by kids. So Maria stamp is designed by a kid. New Years stamp was designed, uh by a girl. And now on June 1st, um you know the Kids Day, International Kids Day, uh we're going to issue another one that uh was designed by kids.

Are they selected via competition, or?

Oftentimes it's a competition. Yeah. Because I mean kids want fairness. So you know, you have to give them and um you know they get involved. They send us their drawings, their pictures, and it's really cool. And you know, because this war going back to a question, this war is a war of emotions. You know Ukraine is about the future. Russia is about the past. That's why, by the way, we launch the first stamp on April 12th because it's the day the space, the first spaceship was launched by USSR and it's a big day in Russia. So I thought you know, they launched the spaceship, we're launching the stamp, uh on the same day, and...

So that was planned?

That was planned. That was planned. I picked the date that uh I thought would piss them off as hard as possible. Um, and we launched it. And two days later uh you know, the ship was sank by our Navy, which means you know, the ship got the message because we are the post, we deliver. So um you know, that was the most important part. And obviously after that the stamp became a sensation. A few more times after that as you know, we issued the stamps which Russia suspected was part of the special ops. Uh so we, because stamps are usually issued post-event. So our stamps are pre-events you know, they have a predictive ability.

So I want to get to that stamp or one of those stamps. But two days after that as you said, that you issue the Russian Warship, Go Blank Yourself, the Moskva was sunk?

For now just the ship but then the Moskva will come later.

Okay. That's true, true. Took me a second on that. Um but give me, give us your thought process to kind of come back and reissue a revised version of the Russian Warship, Go Blank Yourself.

Uh well, you know despite the fact that we issued a million stamps, it was not enough to satisfy the demand.

Oh really?

Uh yeah, I think the million was sold like in a few days. You've probably seen the thousands of people standing in lines uh on the website. So it was sold...

You know, during war you see people around the block lining up at a post office office in Ukraine.

Yeah then they, they disregard the you know, air alarms and everything and they just wanted to get that stamp. So there you realized you've done something worth it. So whatever the risk we took, it was all worthwhile. And there was a discussion, so people were asking us, print more. And I said, look, there are some rules I don't want to break. That was the stamp. It was issued when the ship, warship Moskva was above the water. Now it's under the water. So issuing the stamp with Moskva above the water doesn't make sense anymore. It's already there.


So, but people wanted you know, they wanted the stamp. So we found the compromise. We issued the new stamp called Russian Warship, Done, uh where, with the same soldier holding the same sign but just a clean sea without the [warship].

And we did the uh sort of um, additional not stamp, but design with the first stamp so people can see with and without. And I think this way we fulfill our obligations. We maintain postal rules. You don't print any more stamps than the original design announced. But at the same time uh we sort of complete the series.

Well, and you said that the first stamp you issued a million. Pre-war you were issuing 50,000 - 100,000 stamps per issue.


So going to a million, excuse me, is a big jump. The revised stamp, Mission Done, you said you issued five million?


Did you have any clue that the, did they sell out?

Yeah, they sold out.

II think there are like maybe 10,000 remaining uh 10 to 12,000. But uh, when I see something remaining, I said look it's good, because once we free up Crimea or Donetsk and Luhansk people want to buy our stamps. So uh same as they did in Kherson. We sold the first stamp. We hold some of the amount of the first stamp in reserves because I promise, they will be sold in Kherson. And they were, after liberation. So the same thing we'll do in Crimea and Donetsk and Luhansk uh after we liberate them. You cannot discriminate right? You know the postal service should be available for everyone so that's what they're striving to do.

So your turnaround in issuing stamps is clearly very quick. Here in the United States there's a Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee. Uh, and between their deliberations and when a stamp is finally issued is about three years. Yours seems to be about a week.

I mean, it's about a month. Because at the end of the day, you still need to print. You get the colors right. Uh you know, they need to dry up, etc. So the production process takes a month. But then the design varies. Sometimes it's fast.

Well, and do you have a review committee?

We do. Uh we do, but I won't lie. Um I do make those decisions. I hear the opinions but uh you know, I think the stamps took a different mission, different role. Uh they don't have to be artistically perfect. They just have to reflect what people think. Especially when the kids draw it. It will not be artistically perfect.


But it will strike a chord. It will strike a chord with emotions. And that's why for now, my team and I, we're making the decisions, what, how and when, should be issued. Uh some of the things I cannot announce to them because I just have a feeling the stamp will come handy. Um, so we change that process. But we do have, we do have a commission.

It's, I just think of all the things that you've shared with us, just in the few minutes we've now been together, and, do you sleep?

Uh usually it's about 3 or 4 hours a day.

And so, so you mentioned um Crimean Bridge. That was attacked October 8th, I believe? And when was that stamp issued?

October 8th, one hour after after it was uh blown up.

One hour after?

So clearly someone was looking into a crystal ball?

So between three years and an hour, there is...

Yeah, yeah. And a month right?

And a month. Um no, I mean uh we were confident in our armed forces and our special ops. Um so we were preparing the stamps. We looked at different options. Um, there was another famous design, you've probably seen it uh, that depict uh two people looking at the Crimean Bridge, uh a girl and a boy. And the stamp says, Love is watching Crimean Bridge being blown up. Uh so, but, the design was released before and I thought you know, we should not repeat it, probably, even though people had ask us, and look at different options. And this one again I think this one was complicated because there's lots of small details which usually don't really go well on a stamp. But the message in comparison with Titanic was I think, so cool that we just couldn't pass it by.

Well, well do you, do you want to describe what's what that stamp looks like?

Yeah. The stamp looks like you know, the scene the famous scene from Titanic. And uh where uh they look at debris from the bridge, and not just debris, there are cars, there are washing machines, uh, everything that Russians actually stolen from our apartment and homes. Because if you see those pictures they come not as warriors, they come as looters. So, and that's what we want also to depict on the stamp that through that bridge they're just taking the property of Ukrainians. And um, we need to destroy that link between Russia and Ukraine and to destroy the symbol, which Russia I think is the symbol, of Crimea being part of Russia.

So I think after the Russian war...

And it's fun.

Well yeah and, and, and clearly it's resonating. So if you think about you know, if you had to talk about some of the purposes of the reasons for issuing a stamp what would those be?

Um it's to commemorate a certain event that will, or was happening.

Uh it's to, first and foremost to help people's mood and emotions because again, uh...

Keep the morale up?

Keep the morale up. Uh the war is going for a year and it's hard. I mean some people have been you know, without electricity, without heat, without normal food, and um when they sleep, as I do for three or four hours because you know at night they have to go back and forth to shelter. They have to have something to look forward to and um, what I've already seen that they like fun stamps. They they like it's it's something that lights up their day, even for a short while. But it's still worth it. So uh that's how we pick the topics. And that's why we cannot plan. When people ask me, so what, know what our next issue is. Like, my plan is for the next month because the situation changes. And what's uh you know, interesting today may not be interesting tomorrow. Or there are some hard moral issues. Uh for example uh, we have unfortunately lots of fallen heroes. Uh we have uh you know, our soldier that said Slava Ukraini before he was killed. We have one of the younger um commanders that was killed. And people said, look you should issue a stamp. It would be a normal reaction. But I said look um, for the families of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers that died, their family member is the hero. So I don't think I have moral authority to issue the stamp with a particular person and say this is the stamp dedicated to fallen heroes. And uh I made the decision that look, I will not issue those stamps while the war is still ongoing. We'll do it after the war. Absolutely - stamps dedicated to fallen heroes. But the first stamp dedicated to fallen heroes should not have a face of a particular one. It should be dedicated to all, so that every family that lost someone will feel it's dedicated to them. So, but again obviously people have various opinions whether my decisions are right or wrong, why we did or did not issue a stamp. You can imagine now we have lots of requests from lots of organizations um to issue a stamp. But you cannot overdo it. You cannot uh you know, we discussed before that we had 43 issues. I don't think I can do 43 quality issues now. Uh this design, with proper promo, uh with preparation uh, it's just impossible. And to be you know, to be up to date. Uh to strike the chord. So I think we're now doing like once a month, maybe twice at most, uh because uh it does require preparation. Not three years.


But it does require preparation.

But you also have to gauge the, the, the the sense of the you know, Ukrainians. You know. And because you know, do they need to be uplifted? Do they need to be reminded of you know, some of the things that they're going through or suffering through? Uh I think you had, you had said before that you know with the competition for the I think, it was for the Russian Warship, Go Blank Yourself? Um I mean, I think you had talked about that there were a number of designs and you had thought there might be a different design that was going to be selected.

Uh but people selected, you know, we have a privilege to have an opportunity to ask people what they like. And uh, when um it's like a public poll. How do they feel at the moment?


Because you cannot go wrong when millions of people for the first time about 8,000 people voted. For the second one it was over a million.

It was over a million for the, and that was the the redo of the Russian Warship?

Um, no. It was for the uh which should be the next after that.

Uh, okay.

For Good Evening, We Are from Ukraine. Uh, so over a million people voted. We have a special app, in Ukraine a government app where people can vote. And uh if you add up those votes and social media it was over a million votes.

And are you still providing opportunity for Ukrainians to vote on new stamp designs?

Sometimes when we you know, we don't uh we cannot answer ourselves what it should be, or we have several options. We ask them, for example for the New Year stamp. We asked them, what do you think should it be? Because it's a first new year, first war New Year.

That's true.

Uh, so there are different images you can depict that here. Uh I personally thought, and actually this is the first time and one time, that the image that I thought would win, won. Uh because this is the first year millions of families are not together around Christmas and New Year. So I thought this is what bothers people. That's what uh you know, uh that concerns them. That's what they feel. And again that design one, where uh depicting the girl and her husband, or boyfriend at the front lines and she is near the Christmas tree. Uh so it's two, two sides uh of the New Year and uh, that's what struck a chord with lots of people.

And do you look at the international market when you're, when you're issuing stamps or is it really focused at home?

Um, by now I have an experience that when when we issue a stamp uh, I can um pretty much predict whether it will or will not be popular in the international market. So among the latest when we issued stamps with Banksy image.

I had to ask you, I was going to ask you about that.

Uh this Banksy image I knew that would be popular uh internationally. And uh you know he even posted on his social media, uh which I think in admission, yeah, a few followers. And uh you know, I think that shows that uh we've done a good job and we pick the right topic. Though I must say we had a different image plan for that issue. But we did not get the author's permission uh to use that image. And uh we had to uh decide what do we do instead. And our team suggested why don't we do Banksy? And we uh, I think we've done that stamp in like a week and a half. In a week and a half?

Week and a half.

And we wrote to him. We wrote to his company we developed design, and uh we proceeded.

And he was all in that quickly? Wow. Can you, can you describe the stamp?

Uh yeah, it's um there are five uh, pictures uh, painted by Banksy in Ukrainian cities. So nobody knew when he came. He came, he painted them. Uh and these are the cities...

Wait, no one knew or did you know?

No, no. That one I that, that I must admit I did not. Um, so it's Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin. So it's the cities uh that are now, now known for Russian atrocities because these are the first cities that Russians came when they attacked during the first days of the war. One of those uh pictures is a small boy uh basically putting out the Judo player uh, Judo fighter. And you can recognize in the Judo fighter uh, Russian president. So uh, even though it doesn't say it. But um that's a I think uh his David and Goliath scenario where a small Ukraine uh overcoming a much larger enemy. So we thought that would be a great symbol to do on the first year anniversary of the war. That while they were expecting that they will, in three days they will finish the war, Ukraine is still fighting. And by now I think everyone realizes that we will win. It's just the issue of when.

And of course...

There will be a stamp a victory stamp.

I, I would I hope so. I would expect so or maybe a series of. Uh and of course the, the large you know uh Judo person being thrown by the little boy uh, is Putin because of course Putin prides himself on being a black belt.

And uh that's why the stamp is called uh, it's in letters, so it doesn't have the full phrase, but uh in Ukrainian it reads, Putin go "F" yourself.

Oh really? I did not know that.

Yes. It's just in abbreviation, so we did it. It's a PTN PNKh!

And how many did you print of that stamp?

Um several hundred thousand.

Oh you did? Yeah.

And they all sold out like, in two weeks.

And that and popular internationally?

Absolutely. That was a hit.

Yeah. That's I, I would imagine.

And obviously we are thankful to Banksy, for first of all for his drawing and for his support.

And another stamp that you wish was Good Evening...?

We, by the way, um some of our stamps do have a humanitarian component. So for example uh many stamps are issued with um additional copay that goes for humanitarian needs. So for example, the Banksy stamp, uh the copay will go toward building shelters in schools so the kids can go back to um, can, you know, stop going online and go in person. And now every school has to have a bomb shelter so part of the proceeds from selling Banksy stamp will go toward um toward building those shelters. Uh proceeds from Patron stamp uh goes to mining uh, the mining machines. Um some of the proceeds from other stamps go to support our armed forces. I don't even remember but we bought um just recently we put up for auction uh 100 stamps, the first stamps in the frame uh and we raised over a million hryvnia and we bought just bought ten new drones that we send to armed forces. So our stamps help uh directly and indirectly uh to fight. So there are millions now collected uh that we uh spent again on helping animal shelters, schools. We bought a few computer classes for kids. Uh and obviously supporting our army.

I'm speechless. So you also have a stamp Good Evening, We are from Ukraine, and that depicts a tractor? Well here, what do you...?

Yeah, so it's it's the real story. Uh, from the first days of the war. Uh, it happened between Kharkiv and Mykolaiv which was hard hit by Russian forces, where the Russians uh left their tanks and Ukrainian farmers took their tractors and stole those tanks. Um and um, then they went to serve the Ukrainian Army. So it's the the real story. And the stamp uh depicts um the tractor hauling the tank. And the phrase became famous. Uh it's a song and by the we launch it with the song.

Wait so is it a new song or was the song...?

It was, it was before we launched it. So when we launched the stamp uh we did it on Kiev's square, main square uh with the rap group uh that incorporated the song. So I can show you a video. So it was a really cool launch. Um and with the famous phrase Good Evening, We are from Ukraine. And people obviously put a different meaning that first of all, Ukraine is alive. That we still, in our country. We are fighting. And um it's uh it helps people, you know. This phrase become like a catch phrase, every, every night someone would say it and it means we're still alive, we're fighting, and we continue to fight.

Wow. It's, now, you issued a stamp when Ukraine took back Kherson. Was that issued in the city?

Yes. I launched, I actually...

Oh, you launched it?

We, it, it was one of the first stamps that we launched on location. So uh, I went to Kherson and we launch it right on that square, uh the famous square that everyone has seen across the globe now. And we launch it in Kherson because I said a Kherson stamp should be launched in Kherson as Crimea stamps will be launch in Crimea.

When did you launch the stamp from the retaking of Kherson? And don't tell me an hour.

No, that, that, that took a little bit. But I think a week uh, a week from uh from the, the time that Kherson was liberated. So we had it ready to go.

And you know and I think of all the stamp possibilities that you must continually work on, not knowing what should be issued, whether, because of an upcoming victory or whether because of the mood of the country. So do you have like a team of designers and people that are working 24-7 to coming up with these ideas?

Uh we have...

Don't tell me you design the stamps too!

No, that uh I mean, uh that's something I don't do. I don't do drawings. I'm horrible at it.

Me too.

Um but uh you know we have a small group um it's like three to four people uh that are in charge of producing and printing the stamps and working with different artists. So we don't have artist on staff.

Oh okay.

Uh we work with various Ukrainian artists. And if you've seen all the stamp designs are different. So because you don't, you should not keep issuing the same type of design. They should be different. So that's why we working with different designers. They offer us their views. Now it's easy to be famous so lots of people want to work with us. Um and uh we picked, uh we obviously sometimes give our vision, what we think the stamp should represent. Because I mean, you cannot just you know, call artist and say draw something, right?


Uh you have to explain to them what the stamp is about, what uh it should represent. And then just let them, let the creativity take its chance.

And you've mentioned uh Patron the, the dog, I think he's a Jack Russell Terrier?


And what a great way to get that kind of message of importance, of safety uh with the mines really being spread out throughout most of, you well you know, eastern part of Ukraine. Um how who, who designed that and how did that come about?

Um there actually I played the main role because if you think there are uh several stamps. So we wanted to depict uh first of all uh people who are targeted the most by those mines. It's kids, because they dig things. It's farmers because when they go uh you know, things and on the beach because beaches, and sea, and rivers are often mined. It's the people who are in, near areas are getting um getting hit. And also, I'm sure everyone by now knows about our grain deal that our ships cannot leave because the Black Sea is now mined. And to de-mine it will actually take years. And we wanted to highlight that importance. And then we also want some just fun stamps with uh Patron in Chernihiv in Ukraine. So uh you know, you have to be a balance between sending a message because it's important to send a message and still having fun doing it.

And we, and it accomplishes that for sure. And you know, we at the Postal Museum have our own dog mascot, so to speak. His name is Owney, a little scruffy mutt. Uh and but he used to ride the rail mail cars. Uh and so we actually have Owney in the museum which I'll show you a little bit later.

Um, are there other stamps that you wanted to potentially talk or highlight that you're particularly you know, proud of or that um, you know were, you know, that, well let me stop there, you're particularly proud of?

I mean, I like all our stamps otherwise they wouldn't be issued, right? So as I mentioned, sometimes there's no democracy. Um but um I certainly know some of the stamps were more successful than others. Sometimes uh they're more or less successful. You know, we do have predictive ability but you know, when you're dealing with millions of people and their moods um, it's hard to, hard to predict. I'm very proud that we brought up the mood of millions of people across the globe. Uh I'm proud that millions that we collected went to a good cause through the stamps. And I'm obviously proud when I go to front lines and soldiers see me uh, a lot of them have our stamps. Sometimes they um ask me to sign it. Um and uh, I think that's the most important part. Again the emotions are important. The feelings are important. And uh, the stamps became the symbol of our fight. And now the bar is pretty high so we cannot screw it up.

Now well, what would be the one stamp that you would like to issue?

Uh it's a victory stamp. Um it's uh, to be honest I don't know how it should look like. So it may be another competition. Um but you know that stamp, no matter what we do will be famous across the globe um, whether it's a fun stamp, whether it's a sober stamp, whether it's a stamp to piss off remaining parts of Russia. Uh who knows. Obviously everyone wants you know, the Red Square and Kremlin uh, destroyed on some of the stamps. So um we'll see. We'll see. Uh, but I think that would be the most important stamp. And I think that should end the series of war and then we should start building new Ukraine, the postwar Ukraine. Obviously celebrating and commemorating the fallen heroes. Uh the people who did everything. For example we have now a series for professions that uh help Ukraine to survive. Energy workers that help heat uh, under the shelling. Uh communication workers. Uh there will be doctors, railway workers. So people who hold our country together, that also help millions of people. So uh that's the series that we'll will continue.

I just commend you for your, for your leadership, for uh, for the team that you're, you know that you're leading at Ukrposhta, for all the incredible work that you're doing. Uh it's you know, I've learned so much from just talking with you here uh, today. And, and it's complicated, and it's, it's life and death. And and it's, and it's not just, you know, for an individual but for a country. And what you're doing uh is really incredible. And really, thank you for your time here today. I think you know, that uh when we saw the Russian Warship, Go Blank Yourself, uh you know, come out we actually, a team of you know our staff here looked into our vaults and discovered that we actually had two fairly rare stamp albums, of Ukrainian stamps uh that were issued in 1918. Uh and some of those stamps were uh, issued by the government of Ukraine. Uh but then some of them were repurposed Russian stamps with the Trident overprint. And so we have that. And I'm looking forward to showing uh those to you here today. But also thank you for the donation on behalf of Ukraine to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum of the stamps that you've brought with you including uh the first day cover that is signed uh of the Russian Warship, Go Blank Yourself stamp, signed by the president and the first lady. Uh we will treasure that. We're looking forward to adding that into our collection here today.

Absolutely. Um you know I'm also thankful to the president and first lady that took their time to sign it. And I hope we'll get a chance uh to get you another cover with our victory stamp, signed by them. Uh in, in the very near future.

I hope so too. Thank you so much Igor. Thank you very much.

All right, so what I have here are some items from the National Postal Museum that I've pulled out of our storeroom. The first item I was hoping to show you is this envelope. This was a letter that um, was mailed to Russia. You can see on March 1st. And what you have here on top of it is a note saying the service has been suspended. It has to be returned to sender. Um I thought you would enjoy seeing.

Absolutely. Um we actually stopped on the 24th. And we're actually thankful for many postal services that suspended the services. And the stamp is pretty cool. I um, I have to take the picture of it.

We have the story where um the small parcel was sent uh, from Kherson to Chernivtsi and it did not make it because Kherson got occupied. So uh it stayed. Uh we didn't know it. Uh, it stayed in the post office um in the, like a small part of post office, until liberation. And then we actually delivered it. So you should have seen uh six months later um, and the woman that received it, she's like I'm not going to open it, I'm going to frame it. So uh, she actually has that unique parcel uh that um that we delivered. So it's sent February 22nd and received I think, December 5th.

Wonderful. Must have meant a lot to her. Yes.

But we delivered. She did not ask us for you know, forgive, to pay the penalty for late delivery.

That was very kind and generous of her. So here's the um, Russian Warship stamp with Done written across it. I'll pull it out so we can have a close look together. So if you could describe again uh, the difference. Why was this one issued? What what changed in the illustration?

So obviously people wanted us to reissue this stamp with the ship. But when we um, issued the stamp, the ship was still there. Right? Now it's no longer there. So there's no point of issuing the stamp when the ship is uh doing like a submarine would. Uh um, so um, but people really wanted us, not everyone were able to buy the first stamp. So we thought we'll do a series. So here you see the soldier already with the clean uh sea, without any Russian warships. And the first part of it is a coupon that says Russian Warship is Done. So you know we find the compromise of not breaking the rules. And uh describing exactly what happens. Because I thought if it's already a sub people are actually asking, we should do stamp with this thing under the sea, on the bottom. But we said you know Russian submarine series is not really in our plan. So we don't really want to do it.

Why do you think that this design won the contest?

Uh this one was not, I mean the first one?

The original.

Uh the original um, as I said there were harsher designs. But we still tried to find the balance between you know, sending a message and being artistically appropriate and fun. So I think people picked really this one because um it was an interesting design, well uh drawn, and uh it's send a direct message because there are lots of designs with the words uh because so the artists made words the key part of the design. And this one I think was different because you don't need the words to describe what was said. So I think um we obviously put the words there but uh you don't need the words. And I think that's why this design had won.

Let's put it back. Okay, let's see what I have next. Do you use tweezers when you're handling the stamps?

Yes. Well I mean uh when you have like lots of people and they're handing me the stamps to sign, no. But in general, yes.

Just kidding. Okay. So this is a pretty special cover for the National Postal Museum. This cover has a cancellation mark on it. And I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about um both the, the stamp, the cover, and also the cancellation mark.

Sure. Um, you see that's uh for now it's the first and the only stamp of the war which we had launched in and outside of Ukraine. So this stamp was simultaneously launched in New York, Kyiv, and Kharkiv region where the museum, Skovoroda Museum is actually located. It was heavily damaged by Russian forces, as they called them. Uh you know, when they shoot something they said it's a critical command center. So I'm sure the museum was the critical command center uh, of Ukrainian culture, I guess. Um so that's why I think it's unique, in the sense that uh it signifies the efforts from museums to restore it back. And I hope we do, as you see here, is the charitable component that goes toward museum restoration. And um Skovoroda is the symbol of Ukrainian philosophy, of Ukrainian history. And I think it's the right hero to pick uh, to start the museum restoration.

I don't know where we're going to launch our victory stamp. That will probably require uh lots of uh stamps and countries that help us to win in this war. Uh but uh, we unfortunately, or fortunately still have some time to plan it out. Must be like a big envelope that you can, you know, stamp in every country that um, supported us.

Okay so that's a great segue, um because I know that uh Canada has been a friend to Ukraine for many, many years. And so what we have here are the semi-postal stamps that Canada issued. And I wondered if you could comment on those, and maybe also um, the relationship between Canada and Ukraine.

Uh Canada has been supporter and I want to thank a few people there who constantly, from the day one of this war, have been in touch with us, Raj, who is the head of international. Uh but when they issued the stamp we didn't know about it. So we uh, we found it out when they issued it and sent us obviously, a copy. And we really thank the Canadian Post and Canadian people for support because it's really important. Uh you can feel uh some countries because they have a large Ukrainian community like in Canada. Uh they feel personal attachments and obviously not every stamp issue can buy can be bought in Canada. So I think they're doing part of our work. And but again I'm thankful for them for their support, that they've supported us through this period. Uh we actually have some more plans jointly with the Post of Canada which hopefully we'll realize later this year. And uh you know I think the stamp is cool.

And can you talk to me a bit about the sunflower and how it's evolved um especially recently. You know I've seen it more and more on illustrated material uh related to the national identity of Ukraine.

So the sunflower uh was picked as a symbol of the Fallen Soldiers. And for example there is a day of remembrance on August 28th where the sunflower is the symbol of that. But there's also another symbol. Um so when um the war had started uh and Ukrainians tried to convince Russian soldiers not to come to Ukraine, um, there was a sort of a story that people conveying to them. Please, don't come and fight us. But if you do, please take the seeds, put it in your pocket so when we kill you at least the the sunflower will grow out of it. And so that's uh that's how you know, Ukraine approach everything with the humor, and with the message, almost like with the ship. So uh the sunflower became the symbol from that perspective that uh, unfortunately uh, I guess for Russian families. But, fortunately for us, there's likely to be lots of sunflower fields in Ukraine.

That's very powerful. All right.

And we haven't issued the stamp with sunflowers yet so.

Yeah. We're on the lookout for it. Maybe it could be part of that Victory stamp. Okay, so the final stamp that I wanted to show you, this will take me a minute.

So the good thing about this stamp, you can turn it around any way like it.

That's true. I never actually thought about that, but you're right. Okay so um...

I'll take the right letter to be here, right, so it could be M or W depending.

So funny. I love you've got all these jokes embedded in these you know, they're all so multi-layered. This is like the fun thing about stamps, anyways. Okay um, so I'd love to uh hear if you've ever seen this stamp before? And then also maybe um you know, your thoughts on what it's like to see this uh from Ukrainians in diaspora thinking about Ukraine. And then also, next to the stamp that of course, Ukrposhta...

Maybe um, this is a democratic country so I don't see every stamp. Uh but our commission um, our commission that looked at different designs for the Good Evening, We are from Ukraine stamp uh, might have. So we had lots of people sending us uh, how they see the design, some is Dakha Brakha, some is Mykolaiv Governor which became also famous for opening up his speeches with that phrase. Um and you know, there's a discussion who said it first. So we stay out of that discussion. We know we issued the stamp first. So uh that's enough. Um but uh you know, it's interesting how people uh, that's why this competition so popular because everyone sees uh the topic differently. And um this one is actually a two-layered competition because we ask people after our famous two ship stamps um, what should be the next one? And uh there were like ten topics. And again I was totally sure they would pick the different one. But they voted for the topic I think 52% voted for We Are from Ukraine and then once we picked the topic, we asked the artists to provide different views. And I think that's that's one of it. And that's the second one.

Amazing. And how did the public receive the Good Evening, We are from Ukraine stamp?

It's actually the most sold stamp uh in Ukraine. Um it's the third stamp. And uh I think the difference is, the first two have a negative message. I mean in a sense it was positive because we sent the ship where it needed to go and it got there. And this one is more positive. And I think that period um of time after the first few months of the war when we know now that we're winning, people wanted to get the positive emotions. And I think this uh stamp brings exactly that.

I think you're right.

No one would ever think you know, you would fight with a Russian army with the old tractor and uh stealing, stealing the tank. That shows how powerful their army is. But um, I think um again, it also became a symbol where um and you, you would seen lots of videos where uh our farmers uh just regular people, just stealing Russian tanks, uh armored vehicles, etc um for various reasons, some of them because they just left it. Sometimes they get drunk and you know all people made them drunk and then they steal it. So uh and uh the most important part all those tanks uh went now to defend Ukraine.

That's great. Thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure and an honor to spend time with you.

Thank you very much for doing it. And uh, we hope to continue providing you with some uh cool stamps.

Awesome. Thanks.

International Philately