If the Investments Work, all Ukrainians will Benefit
We met Petro Kostiv, managing partner of the American law firm Kostiv & Associates, during the White Collar Crime forum in Kyiv. Petro travels all over the world, but during his stay in the capital, he does not hide his surprise, since the TV footage is different from what he witnessed personally.
Why lawyers from abroad go to Ukraine these days, how Ukrainians are viewed in the world, and why a legal “volcano” is expected in the country – the Legal Practice discussed with Mr. Kostiv all this and much more.
L.P.: What brings you to Ukraine, Petro?
Petro Kostiv: I came to Ukraine after the conference in Warsaw, where sanctions against Russia were discussed. I had certain plans for when in Ukraine, including visiting my relatives. I also came to do research on some issues concerning an investment object for my acquaintances back in the USA who want to invest in Ukraine.
I visited the Rivne and Ternopil regions, and now I am in Kyiv, attending the White Collar Crime Forum. Frankly, I am surprised that such events occur during the war. I am very impressed with the level of preparation and professionalism of the discussion. And I am grateful that I was invited to the event.
L.P.: The Russian war against Ukraine lasts already 15 months. How is it currently perceived in the world and in the USA?
P. K.: I live in the US but I also travel all over the world. I work a lot in Latin America, and in Africa, I often visit Europe. Respect for Ukraine is very high now. The country has shown its strength and unification in facing the enemy. Everywhere in the United States, people hang Ukrainian flags, both on large commercial buildings and on private homes.
The USA supports Ukraine, and it is a clear position. But the situation is somewhat different in Latin America. This is primarily due to the economy. People are tired of troubles there and they are afraid of crises. They have their own mentality.
But Ukraine continues to surprise the world with its spirit, it proves that it is a strong state.
And I am very proud that I am Ukrainian too!
L.P.: In 2022, after the beginning of the Russian invasion, the US authorities announced that the country was ready to accept 100,000 Ukrainians. What is the reason for such a limited number? What is the situation this year?
P. K.: I don’t think it was a limitation. Ukrainians were given a very simple form to come and were granted a special TPS protection status. Immigration courts made decisions in favor of Ukrainians, and Ukrainian migrants are treated quite favorably.
Of course, if compared with other countries, the number is low, because the vast majority of Ukrainians moved to European countries. In the USA, a citizen or a legal resident has to sign only one form to invite a Ukrainian. At the same time, he or she would not bear any responsibility for this. On the one hand, the USA takes care of its own security, and on the other hand, it tries to help Ukrainians. Americans also understand that Ukrainians relocated primarily to Europe, so they mostly help with money, weapons, etc.
L.P.: How well is American law adapted to such global migration challenges as refugees?
P. K.: The immigration law in the US is constantly changing. For example, at one time, a lot of refugees from Central America came to the United States. I work 90% with Latin America and about 10% with the former USSR. Therefore, I can say a lot about it.
Certain conflicts break out in various countries from time to time. Or, take for example communism in Venezuela with the corresponding consequences. Economic crisis may develop, some sort of earthquake, etc. And the US decides what assistance it can provide. Americans check refugees at the border, and if there is suspicion that a person tells a lie, such person is sent back. Now, a person who has been refused entry may be held criminally liable if he or she tries to cross the border again later. This was not the case before, but now it is already a criminal offense.
It is worth noting that there are many wealthy people among refugees. We have clients from Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico. Yes, they are refugees, but there are issues of security, business, etc.
If some unforeseen events occur in a certain country, a special act is passed in the USA. If it does not work well in practice, it is further improved and refined.
L.P.: What legal assistance do Ukrainians need in the USA? What problems do they face most often?
P. K.: Ukrainians are purposeful, strong people. They are well-educated and very organized, and therefore they enjoy support.
Usually, Ukrainians want to have a license and drive a car, study, and have residence rights. The main thing, of course, is a job, and current programs make it possible to obtain a work permit, access to education, and social protection.
United for Ukraine and TPS programs are implemented in the United States. Everything is quite simple there. If one fills out the questionnaire, a person may be in the US in two weeks. And there are many such cases.
I remember April 2022, when a lot of Ukrainians came to Tijuana, a Mexican city on the border with the United States. And since I live in Los Angeles, I went there to have a better look at the situation. There were thousands of Ukrainians living in tents. And they were treated very well.
L.P.: Do you have cases of business relocation from Ukraine to the USA? In general, what are opportunities for those who plan to relocate their businesses to the US?
P. K.: This is a complicated issue because there are many business owners who have not made a decision yet and they are waiting for further developments in Ukraine. In the context of war, most of our clients are just waiting. At least, that’s what happens in the US.
Lawyers who previously worked in Kyiv currently work in my office. I instructed them on how to work with immigration forms. Still, it would be good if they spoke Spanish.
And yes, many businesses left Ukraine for European countries, we have less of that. However, the activities of Ukrainian law firms are noticeable. We hear many proposals from Ukrainian lawyers who are trying to partner with our law firm to work in the USA. And there are many of those who make plans for after the war.
L.P.: Are there any joint projects with Ukrainian law firms?
P. K.: I was once the president of the Ukranian American Bar Association. And I met a lot of lawyers from Kyiv, Lviv, we held a lot of events. Numerous lawyers want to work in partnership with Americans to help Ukrainians open businesses in the United States. And at the same time, to help Americans do business in Ukraine. More of the latter.
We had more questions about the business of Ukrainians before the war. But there is a lot of interest now. And after the war ends, there will be many, many joint projects. Companies are interested in participating in restoration projects, they want to invest and rebuild.
It is very convenient to work with American firms because if international investors are aware that there exists some association with American law firms, they feel much more comfortable.
From discussions with my peers, I know that many law firms that used to have offices in Moscow are planning to relocate to Kyiv. There will be a legal volcano!
L.P.: A large part of Ukrainian refugees associate their immediate future with the hosting country and do not yet plan to return to Ukraine. In your opinion, should the authorities make any efforts to urge citizens to return to their native country after the victory?
P. K.: This is a very important issue for the country. It should do everything possible so that people come back. Because many young, smart, talented Ukrainians left abroad. And they are needed to rebuild the country.
At the same time, I should admit that a lot of people stayed in Ukraine during the war. If everyone would leave, who would stand to face the horde?
We understand that people were forced to leave under the circumstances. The country should create conditions, nurture talents, and its future. Experience gained abroad can also be useful, since people learned languages, learned how life is organized in other countries, and learned something new. And this will also help Ukraine: those people did not live within the war mentality, so they will be useful to fellow citizens who survived the war.
L.P.: What role do you think lawyers can play in the rebuilding of Ukraine?
P. K.: We, Ukrainian and international lawyers will be important in the reconstruction of Ukraine!
The other day I met representatives of a company that has a very large project involving Americans in the Rivne region. And they say that while the war continues they prepare legal documentation for the business. There will be great opportunities for lawyers in Ukraine!
Ukraine will be a new, modern, and safe country. The country still needs to overcome corruption issues, it should clean up itself, because foreigners do not want their money to be pocketed by someone. And the main goal of lawyers is to protect our people so that all these investments work for the country. If the investments work, all Ukrainians will benefit.
Therefore, it is important that my peers do not stop now, there is some movement, and the legal infrastructure in the country is ready. We will need to accept changes!
It is also important to maintain contacts with international lawyers who will also participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine.
I have no doubt that Ukraine will win and we will have a new future after all the ordeals!