Lviv Convention Bureau continues to tell international partners about what is happening in Ukraine, in Lviv; to explain why it is necessary to stop doing business with russian companies, and most importantly – how to help Ukraine today. We launched a series of interviews “Industry talks during the war” with international and Ukrainian experts in the exhibition industry. The initiative is dedicated to coincide with the Global Exhibition Day. Today we are talking to Andriy Stegura. This is the president of the private joint-stock company “GalExpo”. We will, of course, talk about what is currently happening in the exhibition industry in Lviv, in Ukraine and in the world in general. Especially in this difficult time for us.
Mr. Andriy, good afternoon. We are glad to welcome you. Thank you for accepting our invitation and coming.It is already the fourth month of the war. It is not an easy time for us in Ukraine. Literally many spheres are put on pause. The same applies to the exhibition industry. What is happening now with your company, with your employees, with the activity that was conducted by you?
Good afternoon. Сompany “GalExpo“ will, I hope, celebrate its thirty-second birthday this year. Today we are the oldest, most experienced exhibition company operating in Ukraine. During this big and long way we had different moments. But those moments that started two years ago, there were no such moments in any of the exhibition companies, not only in Ukraine, but also in the world. Everyone knows that the quarantine restrictions that were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire exhibition industry, all over the world, and directly on our company. The first year (2020) was extremely difficult. We made some adjustments and managed to hold our most powerful dental exhibition. Reconstruction was done in 2021. We started holding exhibitions, gaining momentum. We held a tourist exhibition quite well. At the beginning of this year, the pre-crisis indicators were already starting to reach little by little. But what happened after February 24, no one experienced anything like that. After this initial shock and horror, not understanding, such weightlessness… The situation is extremely difficult. Many of our employees ended up abroad. For various reasons. We understood that the exhibition industry in Ukraine has definitely stopped. We have contacts with many of our colleagues throughout Ukraine. We have put our activity on hold. But we are sure that it will resume. We are waiting for the moment to start. Many of our employees are currently volunteers at the humanitarian headquarters, where we hold our exhibitions, in the Lviv Art Palace at 17 Kopernyka Street, Lviv. To describe it briefly, as of today, our activity (I can’t say that it has completely stopped, but…) is in such a mode of waiting, the beginning of revival, the beginning of the start.
In previous years the Lviv Art Palace and the Arena Lviv stadium were the main places where exhibitions were held in Lviv. Now all these locations have turned into either humanitarian headquarters or a place of refuge for internally displaced persons. Please tell us what is the current situation with other locations for exhibitions in Lviv, with exhibition centers in Ukraine in general.
You know that we have always been the initiator of the construction of exhibition and congress centers in Lviv. Lviv has great exhibition traditions. The Krajowa Exhibition, the Eastern Fair, which took place in Lviv, have very good traditions. We were at many meetings before the pandemic, before the quarantine restrictions, where we were shown entire projects, playgrounds where we went, where there was the beginning of some construction of congress- and exhibition halls. Looking ahead, I am sure that sooner or later, Lviv will be forced to have an exhibition and congress hall. Definitely. Before the pandemic there were two or three locations in Lviv. They are the Lviv Art Palace, the formerPivdenny Expo, and the Arena Lviv stadium began to develop. The Pivdenny Expo was closed before the pandemic. Now everything has been reformatted for the pool.
There are no more such locations in Lviv for a more or less worthy holding of exhibitions. The situation in Ukraine was also not very positive. The large “Meteor” exhibition complex was closed in Dnipro, and “Radmir” was reformatted in Kharkiv. And there are two such professional exhibition complexes in Ukraine: the International Exhibition Center on the Left Bank (Kyiv) and the new one, once dismantled and rebuilt, KyivExpoPlaza, which is on the Zhytomyr highway on the way to Lviv, closer to the village of Berezivka (Kyiv region). But there we had military operations not far away. Something was damaged. As of today, it is being restored. He was not very badly damaged. It may be ready for mass events in the near future. In Odesa exhibitions are held at the train station. Therefore, the situation with exhibition complexes before the war, before the pandemic, was not very pleasant. Now, of course, it is difficult. But we understand that the revival of exhibition activity will be gradual. It will not be immediately powerful. Therefore, to begin with, I think that the locations we currently have, which are the Lviv Art Palace and the Arena Lviv stadium, will be enough to start with various exhibitions.
Do all exhibition centers function as humanitarian headquarters in other cities of Ukraine as in Lviv?
There are four pavilions in the International Exhibition Center (Kyiv). Three of them are involved under the humanitarian headquarters, but the resumption of exhibition activities is being considered in autumn. KyivExpoPlaza is now being repaired a little after the damage. I will say this, looking ahead, everyone is waiting for the end of summer to understand when and what can be started. I have already been to the Lviv Art Palace, and we were considering the possibility of using the Lviv Art Palace for our exhibitions in autumn.
You always have a planned calendar every year. Fully. You have a lot of different contracts, agreements with your partners. Accordingly, many events did not take place after February 24. How do your partners react now to the circumstances that have developed, how the obligations mentioned in the contracts are being fulfilled?
We are getting past this moment more easily now. Why? Because we have already passed the stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the quarantine restrictions, we really had, considering the lack of exhibition space for large, powerful exhibitions, such exhibitions as “Woodworking”, which ended, and already on the third day after that, the exhibition spaces for the next year were allocated. Many people made prepayments. Payments were made and our obligations were understood. The pandemic made some adjustments to this. It is clear that many exhibitions were canceled and postponed. In principle, even then there were no problems. Everyone understood. We simply took into account these obligations for the following periods. We practically did not return funds. But that was before.
Now the situation is already different, because we are trained in these consequences, and not only we, but also the participants. By the way, 17 different exhibitions with international participation were planned for this year. We have started preparations for a new exhibition – “Mirror of Fashion”, which was once held by the “Meteora” company. Now we have acquired the rights to hold it in Lviv. Taking into account two years of the pandemic (we are somehow already so trained that the beginning of spring always leads to a worsening of the situation, quarantine conditions worsen), so we planned all these exhibitions closer to the summer. So May and June should have been more powerful. Considering that there is still a lot of time before the exhibition, as well as the situation with the pandemic, a lot of people do not pay in advance. A lot of people paid for our medical exhibition, for “Woodworking”. People didn’t pay a lot for other exhibitions. Now the trend is that there will be payments closer to the event itself. Therefore, today we have no obligations to our partners (on the one hand, plus and minus). But even if there are some obligations, then everyone (I respect our partners) understands the situation. And what is very nice – nobody calls now with a request to return money. Everyone understands that tomorrow will be the future, and there will be exhibitions again. Those insignificant funds that we have in our accounts are not demanded by anyone.
Your team is the founder of the Exhibition Federation of Ukraine. Of course, you cooperate with many international partners. Tell us, please, how they reacted to the war in Ukraine. Have you talked to them? Have they sent you letters of support? Did they talk about Russia’s membership in their organizations and associations?
As for the Exhibition Federation of Ukraine, we do not have many regional exhibition members here. There are many exhibition companies in Kyiv. The regions where exhibition companies remain are Lviv, a little – in Odesa. Almost none were held in Kharkiv. Lviv and Kyiv have a large list of various exhibition events. They are trying to hold jewelry exhibitions in Odesa. They are quite good at it. Such specificity. Therefore, the Exhibition Federation of Ukraine unites mainly Kyiv companies. And also Lviv and Odesa. Until 2014, we had relations with companies from Russia. I can’t say that they were extremely powerful. They came to us for meetings. We did not have such very powerful contacts. Since 2014, I have not heard that the Exhibition Federation of Ukraine maintains relations. We directly had such calls to erase all contacts with mail ending in “ru“ or with other Russian addresses from our huge database over the years.
In addition, the company “GalExpo” is a member of the East-Central auditing system “CENTREX“. By the way, we held several meetings of the auditing system “CENTREX” in Lviv. It includes exhibiting companies from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. We have three companies from Ukraine there. And I am very pleased that on the first day (February 24) of a large-scale war, we received a huge number of letters of support, 100% support for Ukraine. There were a lot of people from Poland. We are now seeing huge support from the neighboring country. But then we did not expect this. It was very nice that on the first day of the war Poznań Fair (Poland) exhibited a photo of a banner about Ukraine and our flag which were on their central building, halfway up the building (I don’t know how many meters there are, 100 meters, probably). They wrote that they are with us. There were also constant calls from: Kielce Fair, Lublin Fair, Poznań Fair. Words of support with a question if we need help. We did not support any relationship anyway. I mean our Exhibition Federation of Ukraine with Russia. I hope this is the end. Nothing will ever recover, no activity.
It is clear that now the exhibition industry is on pause. However, there is hope for our international partners, who can also partially contribute financially to the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war, including the exhibition industry. How do you see our first steps as an industry in Lviv, in Ukraine, towards recovery after the end of the war, after victory?
We survived this shock. Many industries are now starting to recover in Ukraine. Not as I would like, but something is starting to work. You know, we had several very powerful exhibitions planned for May-June. One day I was in the office. And here – a call to a landline phone. They ask if there will be an exhibition. I wonder where they got information about the exhibition from? They replied that they had received an invitation to a medical exhibition at the beginning of February. It was calling a family doctor who wanted to come to the exhibition. I was extremely surprised by this. It was very nice. I understood that there is interest, there is a great demand. The same, Lviv is far from the epicenter of military actions. At the beginning of 2014, Lviv was already in such a situation. Now maybe it is something similar. We are actually looking very seriously at partially resuming our activity. There is a very high demand for one exhibition called “Dental Ukraine”. Now it is the best exhibition in Ukraine, taking into account the history here, taking into account the large and powerful dental school in Lviv. Therefore, we are considering the possibility of holding an exhibition in Lviv this autumn. This is the first.
Second. We have a very large number of specialized exhibition equipment. In Ukraine, it is only in Kyiv and here – in Lviv. Until recently, we built and helped to hold about 110 various permanent events in Lviv, in Kyiv, Uzhhorod and Truskavets. Where we just did not build! We have powerful electrical equipment. As of today, appeals for the development of various locations for holding an event and using specialized exhibition equipment are already beginning. We have built, so far, only humanitarian ones for UNICEF, children’s rooms at the Arena Lviv stadium, in the Lviv Art Palace. We are constantly building something. We have equipment, exhibition furniture. Therefore, I sincerely hope that the equipment will be suitable for use in the future. I really hope that we will start with a dental exhibition, because there is a demand. Great demand. Companies call us. They even asked us to hold our medical exhibition in May this year. It is clear that it is difficult now. The first thing we will do is to gradually resume activity. And to try to begin from such exhibitions, which are very popular. Having exhibition equipment, we hope that it will be used.
And how do people react to this exhibition “Dental Ukraine“? You had a lot of international companies, people coming from abroad. How are they prepared to come to Ukraine?
It is still too early to talk about foreigners. Exhibition case. It is not possible to stop the exhibition activity and start it again two years later. These are people, employees. We thought about preserving the company. But it doesn’t work like that. There is an office, there are warehouses, there are expenses, and the most important thing is employees with a lot of experience. It is difficult to preserve a company. It will be very difficult to revive the activity. Therefore, I hope that somehow the beginning will go. And then it will be clear. The main thing is to be safe. And then foreign companies will participate.
And how effective is the exhibition platform where you come with your new product? Many Ukrainians have a stereotypical idea that somewhere there are foreign brands, foreign products that are better. Now, of course, patriotism, a sense of homeland, and the presentation of Ukrainian goods are at the highest level. We want to introduce them to everyone, go abroad, present a Ukrainian T-shirt, a Ukrainian tractor, or something else. How is this platform – an exhibition space, when you come, show your product, present it, to what extent does it still have a role, how effective is it for its domestic audience, as well as an international one?
Had, has and will have. In fact, there are international brands that spend billions of funds on promotion and marketing of their products. It may turn out that apart from them, nothing else exists. But there are many types of products that need to be seen, to see their production. This cannot be seen with the help of the Internet. That is why we have a lot of national manufacturers at our exhibitions who cannot afford huge marketing costs. Participation in exhibitions today is not expensive. By the way, thanks to our exhibitions, I know our Ukrainian manufacturers a lot. They come to our exhibitions, and guests come from abroad. They arrived. I hope that they will continue to come. They also export a lot of products abroad thanks to our exhibitions. I sincerely hope that it will continue to be like this.
After two years of quarantine business is gradually returning to live meetings. Just recently a large international exhibition of the MICE industry IMEX took place in Frankfurt. What do you generally think, should Ukraine participate in such exhibitions? Is it appropriate? Is it expedient? If you think there should still be participation, what messages should we convey to our international partners?
I am sure, unequivocally, that it is necessary to participate in any venues. It is necessary to inform. This is also war. Only information war. The benefit from it is much greater than from other types. Therefore, it is necessary to use it. And the most important thing is to send a message that everything will be restored tomorrow. Ukraine is open to everyone, to the world.
Before the war the issue of the congress center, the exhibition center was always relevant. It is clear that now, during the war, the main finances will be directed to critical infrastructure. Again, the building of the exhibition center will not be on time. However, under such conditions, how can we attract major international events to Lviv? Will the issue of the congress center after the war, after the victory, be on time again?
The question is relevant and will be relevant. We understand that the situation is a little different now. I sincerely hope that there will be a recovery in all sectors of the economy. It is too early to talk about the building of an exhibition center there. But I understand that the industry will be rebuilt. So I said that the revival of our activity, not only ours, but exhibition activity in Ukraine, will be gradual. For a start, these existing platforms will be enough. We met recently. We had an idea. For thirty-two years, we have experience in holding various events. We have enough partners from abroad. In the 1990s, we held the exhibition “Ukraine: East and West Together“. We transported companies from abroad and from the western regions of Ukraine to the eastern regions of Ukraine. It was Kharkiv, Dnipro, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia. Exhibitions were held there, where experience was exchanged, where our exhibition participants demonstrated their products. I am sure that when such a large-scale reconstruction of our Ukraine begins (it is already beginning), after or even during military actions, we will have to revive this idea. We are already starting consultations with our partners. I am sure that a lot of international funds will be involved for the reconstruction, especially of the affected areas. We have such an idea. We want to hold such expositions with products and demonstrations there. Not only building materials, but also various means. The situation will stabilize a little, then we hope to start such activities.
Now all Ukrainians are going through very difficult times. How will you stay afloat? How do you cheer up, get inspired? Where do you get the strength to resist all this negative energy and the flow of information that surrounds us now?
You know, since the first days of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, we have had a large set of exhibition equipment. Lviv City Council, Lviv State Administration and many private individuals approached us with a request. We have provided our equipment free of charge. As far as I know, our exhibition furniture is in a bomb shelter of Lviv City Council now. We equipped the humanitarian headquarters – Lviv Art Palace – with various technical means. We have very powerful technical equipment. We handed it over to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, for territorial defense. Therefore, there is absolutely no need to lay hands. Efforts must be made so that we can gain victory over our enemies. The victory will definitely come. Everything will be fine. We will all work. Everything will be good.