Tetyana: Our guest today is Valeriia Kotsur, originally from Ukraine, moved to Luxembourg seven years ago. Valeriia is a financial professional, a Pilates teacher, and a founder of UkrainePlatform, a think tank that is focused on finding approaches and tools for recovery of Ukraine by means of governance, derisking and sufficient insurance given to all stakeholders. Valeriia is also an ambassador of repower Ukraine. We will be talking about her story, but also about building the future of Ukraine and about the role Luxembourg can play in this process. Valeriia, nice to see you.
Valeriia: Nice to see you. Thank you.
Tetyana: Valeriia, you are originally from Ukraine, but you moved to Luxembourg after living a while in the Netherlands. How did you find Luxembourg from the first sight?
Valeriia: Well, honestly, it was like a fresh breath and a lot of space and coziness around you because, well, you really need to pray before you go out in the city center of Amsterdam not to be killed by the bikes. And here it was really, the first feeling was indeed that no one is pushing your shoulder, that everyone looks more or less nicely dressed. And the first thought was like, okay, here I can walk, here I can also go shopping, and here I feel safe. This is why Luxembourg really caught my heart from the first sign. And it was, I think, mutual, hopefully.
Tetyana: Did you notice something else besides this feeling of safety?
Valeriia: I noticed that people don’t rush, don’t run opposite to Amsterdam, of course, because Amsterdam is quite a city, ambience, full of tourists, and especially if you live in the city center. Here it was a feeling of having time to also see things around, also look in the face of the people, also see the smiles, and also enjoying coffee break without having someone in front of your nose running around. So, I really love Amsterdam, but honestly, just as a visitor for now.
Tetyana: I would say your story is a bit unusual for many women coming here because you started in Luxembourg as a Pilates teacher and then, you managed to get back to your profession in the financial sphere. So, this is the activity you used to be involved in back in Ukraine. So, how did you manage that?
Valeriia: Through a lot of hard work, through studying. I was quite good in Ukraine when I was vice president for one of the biggest banks in Ukraine. And it was easy to get back to finance, but it was not easy to get back to the European framework of financial sector in general, because time flew since the time I was in Ukraine, since I was working there. And of course, the financial mechanisms, they are most of the time the same. And nothing specific changed in terms of the instruments, but how things are done, how things are regulated, that changed and for this, I had to go to the University of Luxembourg. I had to go to the House of Training, just to feel differences, just to feel what is happening now in the market and the regulations. And then, at the end, I was lucky enough to have an entry to the University of Luxembourg.
I got the place as the free studying entry, as it’s called, and there I got two major spheres which then impacted my work here. It was advanced company law and also compliance. And compliance was taught by Marcos Wik from CSSF. And actually later on, I met him and said, like, you know, you were in charge of my future careers. And this is where, of course, I understood, where Luxembourg states, what are the strengths of Luxembourg. And it helped me to really quickly find myself where I want to go. And of course, I went to the MLKYC, which is quite classical for Luxembourg.
Tetyana: Several people who’ve been here for the interview told me that when they moved to Luxembourg, they needed to reinvent themselves. Did you feel that as well?
Valeriia: I don’t think that it was for me reinventing. I think based on what was the background of my state of being here in Luxembourg, made me the opposite, made me define myself, not reinvent. But I actually got back to who I was. Luxembourg gave me strength to really not be afraid, to speak up, be open, think of what we are all discussing about inclusion, diversity. And this is where I actually found myself. And I was not reinventing. I was just going to my roots, where I had to be and where I belong. And now what is happening around me shows that indeed, this is a proper way, and this is my road, which I had to take.
Tetyana: So, you started to work in Luxembourg as a Pilates teacher, right. How Pilates helped you to find yourself?
Valeriia: That’s a good question. I had to be flexible for my family arrangements, and I like sports. And I decided to get certification for becoming a Pilates teacher. I was doing this really seriously because we also had to do anatomy studies, exams, and I was giving Pilates classes on the machines and also on the mat. That means that you see quite a lot of different people at the different stages of their emotional comfort. And this experience for the three years when I was a freelancer here in Luxembourg, it helped me to, first of all, meet a lot of people and also teach myself with all the soft skills. Because when you come and when you enter the room full of people who are there to listen to you and do what you are going to tell them, you need to be good enough to cue people.
You need to be good enough to control people. You need to be good enough to understand what they need at the really specific time. Because you might see people for the first time and maybe the last, maybe they’re there just for one thing and you really need to be able to adjust your even program. You can come to the class and say, okay, I think that I will be doing this kind of exercises and this kind of program, depending on how many people you know, how many they will be. But then, you see someone who is really into pain or into specific needs, and you need to really be so quick enough to adjust your program. You have only 1 hour. You cannot say people, you know, guys, wait a second, let me go back to my books, I will check everything and come back to you.
So, you really need to be there and think really fast and adapt and some people say okay, I don’t like to be touched, so, don’t come to me. Whatever the reason, some people are the opposite, they need to come. And let’s assume even if I put my arm on the shoulder, they understand. Okay, yeah, I need to put my shoulders down because they are somewhere in the sky already. And these soft skills, they are helping me also in business in understanding people because in the eyes you can see quite a lot, in the mimics, you can see if a person is in pain. You can see if the person is in a good mood or tired. And this was quite a big experience for me. And I still teach just to keep it going in my free time. And I really enjoy it. It’s the same as if you will have well, one thing is to control the group.
What also gives you the soft skills of project management, let’s say. Another thing is to come to the private class and you see the person for the first time. Let’s assume, it’s a first-time class. You come there and you have 1 hour when the person paid for this hour, to understand what Pilates is, to do some work out or maybe some rehabilitation. And you really need to do things in only this hour, so that the person is not injured more, that they don’t feel a lot of pain, which is not necessary pain, and that they’re still happy to come back to you later on. And this all also face to face, with only one person, but you really need to adapt.
Tetyana: It’s quite intimate, right?
Valeriia: Yeah. And you need to adapt to the person. You need to understand if you can come closer or you need to stay away if you need to show the exercise yourself or they want to just be cute to do the exercise. Because some people accept information differently, right? Some people accept information only by writing, some people accept information by seeing, some people accept information by hearing. And this also is important because you might explain exercise, you think that it’s quite easy enough but unless you show they don’t understand, they need to see from the side, and it helped me quite a lot in business.
Tetyana: Valeriia, you were one of the initiators of the Association UkrainePlatform that is dealing with the question of rebuilding Ukraine after the war. Could you tell us a few words about that?
Valeriia: I’m not sure I can fit into a few words. Let’s try. But that was the organic follow up of what I was doing when the war started and what everyone was doing, everyone was just shocked. Everyone was running around with the Red Cross, with all other humanitarian associations to help based on the humanitarian standpoint. And then after going to different forums and different webinars about reconstruction of Ukraine, because first, no one understood what to do. And then, people started to understand that, okay, we need to do something with the business. We need to understand where we are going. We need to not lose things which were built from the independence of Ukraine and even before. So, at this point, I understood that we are doing business differently for now and Ukraine has to go through specific, let’s assume transition period to align the framework of doing business, to find synergies of doing things and understanding the mechanisms and financial instruments the way they understood in Europe and by seeing that we are still on different pages in this.
I understood that knowing how business was done in Ukraine, how business is done here, and plus having my compliance background with me, I wanted to share this expertise and I wanted to connect people, professionals to brainstorm together to figure out how things should be done, to do some gap analysis. And that worked. So, this is how the UkrainePlatform was created because of different, let’s assume we had four working groups. We have four working groups and due to the fact that they were all from different subjects and different scopes starting from the rule of law, then, investment funds. What are the major strengths of Luxembourg, then, the ESG Green transition also where our Green Stock exchange is one of the biggest players in Europe. Then, going to startups, innovation and digitalization. This is where Ukraine and Luxembourg have a lot of similarities, let’s assume a view on how the future has to look like.
It was quite easy to find these four working groups and to fill these working groups with different professionals from Ukraine, from the Netherlands, from Brussels, from Luxembourg who wanted to contribute, who wanted to work together. And this is how we created the UkrainePlatform ASBL, in order to make it more structural, to have more grounds here in Luxembourg because before it was just kind of a networking. So, there was no legal entity, there was no specific setup. It was just around me that I was collecting people. I was discussing it with them. We were doing some calls, brainstorming. But now, I see that the time pushes towards more structural things and to give also the products of several of the working groups to issue these products to have more value in Luxembourg. This is where we work together with Loft, with House of startups. We are quite well supported by our ecosystem in Luxembourg and for now, the main objective is to work with the innovations because it’s easier, it’s more aligned now between Luxembourg and Ukraine, especially with the standpoint of the fact that Luxembourg is one of the stakeholders of the EIC package for soft landing of Ukrainian startups.
And it’s not only the startups, Ukraine is quite an amazing place, full of tech and IT specialists and we can of course outsource this, and most of the economy now is boosted by this outsourcing, and still having this technology working. And we have already been here with the Set University, which is a digital university of Ukraine preparing professionals in the IT tech sphere. We were bringing Tech Ukraine together with the Ukraine Luxembourg business club. It was quite a nice collaboration together. We were supported by Luxembourg private equity and venture capital associations. So, I think that we have quite a lot of things to do, but there are a lot of things already done. And this is where Ukraine platform will be as a center of excellence for our tech innovation and startup companies from Ukraine who really want to find their grounds in Luxembourg, in Benelux.
And we will just be ambassadors of finding proper allocation of several startups, let’s assume, to several angels, let’s say tech companies, to specific companies who can and who want to purchase outsourcing services from Ukraine. That’s it.
Tetyana: You also mentioned that Luxembourg will play a major role as a financial center when the rebuilding of Ukraine will start. Why is it so?
Valeriia: Yes, and this is my pillar of the think tank because we are the administration center for Europe, for investment funds, for structuring things, for compliance also and this is where I don’t want Luxembourg to lose our AAA status, once war will end in Ukraine. And I also don’t want Ukraine to lose this race because of having the feedback of, oh, Ukraine is about speculation. This is where Luxembourg has a strong position. This is where Luxembourg supports Ukraine. And this is where I see that whatever the institution will figure out in Brussels in terms of the budgeting, of all the initiatives, the mechanisms will still be built, filtered, tested in Luxembourg, because we are specifically set up for these kinds of services here. This is our core business and of course, when we think about Ukraine, no investor is going to invest in any project himself. That means we need to diversify, that means we need to build some specific structures, that means that Luxembourg alternative investment structures are those to pursue for proper diversification, for proper pooling of all the LPs investors around the setup of specific vehicles.
This is where I think that our strengths as a financial center is the one to take on. And of course, also another point will be that in Luxembourg, we have quite an interesting setup which was not actually discussed before because we know that for instance, Ukraine is built, they help a lot with humanitarian help, they do amazing job. I don’t know where they find strength and energy to do this on an ongoing basis, but this is amazing and I think without collaboration from Luxembourg city and from Luxembourg administration and from all the stakeholders, it will not be possible, of course. But there is another subject which is still quite interesting in terms of reconstruction or in terms of finding Luxembourg as a donor. And this subject is about unclaimed assets. Why? Because in the investment sector among the investment funds, especially in UCITs. You might see that UCITs are retail funds.
So, for private individuals or let’s assume, private banking also can be part of this wealth management. There could be, and there are a lot I know in Luxembourg topics around these unclaimed assets. Unclaimed assets are the assets which are for several years not claimed by the investors. So, the money was invested, there is some income for instance, or there is, let’s assume, the payout process now going on, there is a redemption and there is no contact with the person, with the investor. So, there are a lot of cases like this, and what Luxembourg can do is in terms of the fact that the money cannot be used by the asset managers, those unclaimed assets. So, they need to transfer them to a specific fund or receive the confirmation from the specific guarantee fund in Luxembourg which will say that they are okay if they will send this or donate this money somewhere.
And as an ambassador for Repower Ukraine and Repower Ukraine is a non profit organization, a fund which is reconstructing Ukraine from the standpoint of putting, let’s assume solar lamps, solar panels on the hospitals in Ukraine, helping them to have ongoing facilities for energy. And this is now really important because we know that last winter, we had a lot of blackouts and having an ongoing energy facility for hospitals is one of the core points of humanitarian help. And this is among the core functions of the hospitals to provide, let’s assume, artificial breathing, artificial setup for premature babies, for the incubators, because some things need to go on working nonstop, whatever the blackout is. Otherwise, a person or a child can lose their life. Therefore, such a fund was created. And I think that this niche of unclaimed assets is something we need to consider in the setup of Luxembourg being a financial sector, because we have a lot of those unclaimed assets, and most of the time, investment fund managers, they don’t think too much about that way of using these unclaimed assets as a donors to donate somewhere.
So, they just give away this money to the generic guarantee fund, state fund, which is dealing later on and then, do what they have to by their mandate. But I think that we need to consider this kind of option to help Ukraine as a country donor because so far, we are a country-donor for a lot of support which concerns Ukraine. But this subject is not discussed yet and this is a really interesting niche which we need to push.
Tetyana: Valeriia, there is such a phenomenon when people come to Luxembourg. So, at first, they would like to stay only two years and then, they just don’t want to leave. Why do you think this happens?
Valeriia: I have different options for this, different variations. So, when I’m thinking of that and how it happened with me and how I’m looking at this and saying, oh, mama mia. So, I came here when I was over 30, and of course, when you need to sign on the contract for rent of your apartment and there is like three years, and you say, well, no, in three years, I will be somewhere. But you are already coming to Luxembourg with a child, or you plan to have a child. So, you don’t come to Luxembourg as to Barcelona for Erasmus, you come to Luxembourg to work and then, in the blink of an eye, you are here for seven years. Just because in my opinion, it’s just because as older you are as fast as the time flies. But in general, I think that going back to my first answer about what was my first feedback about Luxembourg, I think you feel comfortable here if you feel comfortable with yourself, if you are busy enough with your family.
And most of the time expats come with families to Luxembourg, otherwise most of them are going back to other countries a year later. Because Luxembourg is good when you have a family, when you have kids. And this is where I think time flies when you have kids. Time flies when you have a lot of work. Time flies when you have comfort; also, when you don’t need to struggle a lot in terms of the Social Security, in terms of security, and of course, based on what is happening overall on our Earth and overall, Geopolitically speaking, we are so much busy with everything that life and time flies rapidly. And what is good in Luxembourg is that you can take a couple of minutes, just going five minutes and you are in the forest and you can at least enjoy knowing like, okay, I’m on the earth, so whatever.
And this is one of the strengths of Luxembourg, having this possibility to be also really fast, close to nature, really fast shifting your landscape, going to Belgium, going to France, going to Germany, going to Netherlands or taking a flight. What is also really important because our Findel Airport is thank you, really a good one with not a lot of people and really fast accessible. That just makes life move really fast.
Tetyana: What advice can you give to people who just moved to Luxembourg?
Valeriia: I would say first advice would be if you couldn’t find yourself by the time you moved to Luxembourg, don’t try to find yourself in Luxembourg. So, first try to find yourself and then, you will find yourself in Luxembourg and not Luxembourg in you.
Tetyana: Sounds a bit complicated, could you explain that?
Valeriia: Yeah, I will try to explain what I mean. I mean that if you need external comfort in your life to feel good and you might not really like Luxembourg. If you are confident in yourself, if you are having peace with yourself, then, you will also find quite a lot of nice things in Luxembourg. And you will not be saying that. Oh, it’s too boring. When you see some expats coming, they say, you know, where shall I go in Luxembourg? It’s so boring here. There are no bars, there is no ambience. It’s not like in Brussels, it’s not like in Amsterdam. But I mean if you are comfortable with yourself, you will find some other things to do in Luxembourg besides just partying. And if you have found a good friend in Luxembourg, you will also find parties. Trust me. So, it’s really not that un-ambient in Luxembourg if you have good company, you will find yourself here everywhere, even somewhere on the bench, drinking glass of cremant, looking at the landscape and having fun.
So, maybe it’s also linked to age but okay, whatever. What I would also say for our listeners is for our audience. Don’t mess up with people in Luxembourg because it’s a small country. Don’t underestimate the person you are talking to because you never know who this person is. Be yourself. Don’t be too arrogant. But if arrogance is for you, being yourself is okay, whatever. So, I mean some people are just like that and they will find themselves here. But just don’t be too arrogant. But really be yourself. Luxembourg is a really inclusive place where you can, at least this is my feeling, where you can be yourself. If you know who you are, you will always find good company, you will always find good communication. You will always be able to network. And networking is another thing which I really need to advise you.
Go networking. And there is one hint on how you can network properly. So, first of all, know the audience. So, go to the webinars, know what you are doing, be professional. On the webinars, you can see who is speaking on the webinars and what is their scope of work. And then, when you go networking you can easily approach this person and say oh, you know, I was on that webinar and that was quite good. Can we discuss this? And I mean, it doesn’t mean that you need to chase people and prepare with the notes. It’s just that you try to be more professional in what you want to discuss with people, and this is where you also want to know what the person in front of you is, if you really want to discuss something with this person. Just coming to someone saying like how the evening goes, it goes.
So, really try to go to the webinars for free networkings. There are a lot in Luxembourg; Eventbrite is amazing tool we can use and in most of the cases, same people go to the same places; so, you will manage everything and by the 10th time you go to the networking you will see ten times the same people and they will think that they already know you. So, it will be fine. Just relax and be yourself at the end.
Tetyana: Do you have some life hacks? For those who just arrived.
Valeriia: I would say, don’t make the first impression of Luxembourg really fast. And as I said, one of the life hacks would be to do proper networking. But this depends on why you are here in Luxembourg. I think as a mother, when I came to Luxembourg, for me it was important to go outside with kids and find some activities. And actually, people are so diversified here in terms of their nationalities, languages, that they are used to approaching you. You don’t need to really do things, you just need to take your child and come to the playground, and someone will always come to you.
Tetyana: Do you know some hidden gems, some places to visit that are not that known?
Valeriia: It’s really not easy to find places in Luxembourg not known because we are so small. But for some people outside of Luxembourg, it’s not easy to find Luxembourg City or Luxembourg Country because it’s the same name. Otherwise, I would say that there are several of the castles which are not really known for people, and which are really amazing. There was recently one small castle opened in the middle of the forest and it’s a really small castle, like from the fairy tales. I don’t remember. It was the name of Tubero castle, something like that.
Tetyana: I don’t know.
Valeriia: That’s the place where you really want to go. Especially with your kids or someone who is afraid of.
Tetyana: Which part of the country is this? North? South?
Valeriia: I think it’s going to the north more, but not too much up. And the story behind this castle is that the person who was building this castle used the bricks from the cemetery to build this castle. And when you enter this castle, I mean it’s castle, it’s called Castle but it’s like for fairy tales, it’s really small and it was closed for public and now the family opened it for everyone and it’s quite creepy there because you can see also some specific stands from the cemetery with some names and you understand that. Otherwise, it’s quite a nice experience. And especially if you have kids who are not that much adults but still not too much babies at the age of, I don’t know, five till ten, you will be able to really make them enjoy this place because you will explain where the stones come and then, you will say, oh, there was a fairy tale that there was a small person living inside because it’s really small and not tall building.
So it’s an amazing place. I really advise everyone to try this one and go. Otherwise, I have my favorite places in Luxembourg, but they are quite familiar to everyone.
Tetyana: Yeah, that’s my next question. Where do you bring your friends? What do you show them when they come to visit?
Valeriia: Several of my friends said, well, you are really good at showing places. Because I was like, okay, this is the bridge, this is the building, this is the tower and this is the street. But otherwise, I like to show, of course, the city center because well, this is where you can also walk towards our Golden Lady to see the view, to take pictures. So, the classical setup, doing pictures close to the Golden Lady, then, having some coffee, apero in the city center on Place d’Armes. And I always bring them to Kirchberg, even if it’s a really short trip. And we need to go with the car because our Philharmonie is something really impressive. My favorite place is behind the Philharmonie. We have Melina Hotel and after the hotel behind there is a place where you can approach the Mudam, and there is a view on the city where quite a lot of couples are sitting all the time, hugging and kissing and drinking.
That’s one of my favorite places to go because it somehow brings me calm and peace. And also it’s a nice place to take pictures if you have friends coming. Sofitel, the rooftop is something if you want to just sit and discuss things with a glass of wine or with a cocktail or with a coffee, tea. But there is also the restaurant, but it’s quite a place to do business meetings in the evening because it’s not crowded, and you can sit in peace and discuss things without screaming to each other. What else? Otherwise. I hope that people come not because of Luxembourg, but because of me. So, this is where first I hug them. I show that I’m there.
They’re enjoying communicating with you and not that much sightseeing,
Valeriia: I hope so.
But of course, in Luxembourg, I had most of the people who come to Luxembourg, they say, like, oh, Luxembourg, what are you doing here? And then when we have one restaurant, another restaurant and then laughing and then finishing at some club; then, people say like oh, it’s not that boring. I try to make people happy when they come just because I’m really happy to see friends or even colleagues coming to Luxembourg, and I think that good company is always the first thing, which is important, and then only everything around.
Tetyana: Right. Thank you for this interview.
Valeriia: Thank you so much for inviting me. It was really a great pleasure. And I hope that my messages will reach someone’s heart.