Russia’s war on Ukraine rages on, but the invaded country is already planning for the future of its tourism recovery. This is the main message from Mariana Oleskiv, chairperson at the State Agency for Tourism Development of Ukraine, who recently spoke with Investment Monitor. 

Oleskiv is particularly intent on rebuilding Ukraine’s medical tourism industry. “Investors are interested as we already have the clinics and were attracting lots of people before the war,” she says. “For example, in 2021, we saw lots of people coming for medical treatment from Gulf countries, especially those with back problems and walking disabilities.”

Building on Ukraine’s medical tourism strengths

Before this year’s invasion of Ukraine, the country was ranked among the top 20 most visited countries for medical tourism. In 2016, approximately 13 million people travelled to Ukraine for tourism, with an estimated 3% of those arriving for medical purposes. 

“Even now, it is possible to attract some of the investors in rehabilitation services like prosthetics,” says Oleskiv. “Unfortunately, Ukraine now has a lot of people wounded by war. People who lost limbs need to learn how to walk again, so there is a lot of [domestic demand] from civilians and soldiers. Sadly, there are wars all the time worldwide. So Ukraine could also become a centre for post-war rehabilitation of people who lost their legs or hands.”

The Ukrainian government currently owns a series of health resorts and sanatoriums across the country, especially in western Ukraine, which has been far less affected by the war. For these, Oleskiv is looking to secure private investment, with reduced tax incentives as a obvious sweetener. “We know it is kind of a risky investment at the moment for many investors, but the potential [is high], which is why [we are already] planning for Crimea’s medical tourism once we end the occupation.”

Oleskiv knows that Ukraine faces a huge perception issue. War very much kills off tourism and investment, as seen by the significant drop-off in tourist arrivals to Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. 

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However, the country’s potent tourism industry will be an important part of Ukraine’s post-war economic recovery. “[Beyond the economic opportunity,], we hope that investors and tourists will support Ukraine’s rebuilding and fight for democratic values,” concludes Oleskiv.