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Historic agreement between Norfolk County Council and Ukrainian region of Lviv all started from small Swaffham business

A historic co-operation agreement between Norfolk County Council and the Ukrainian region of Lviv has been signed - and it all started from a small town business.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Norfolk County Council and Lviv on May 2. It is designed to “explore knowledge transfer, educational exchange and trade opportunities”.

It was ratified at the Ukrainian Embassy in London by Cllr Kay Mason Billig, leader of the county council, and in Lviv via video link by Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv Regional Military Administration.

Liz Truss (right) and county council leader Kay Mason Billig (centre) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Lviv. Picture: Norfolk County Council
Liz Truss (right) and county council leader Kay Mason Billig (centre) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Lviv. Picture: Norfolk County Council

It is the first such agreement to be signed with Lviv by any part of the UK - and the deal all stemmed from a small market stall in Swaffham.

Cllr Billig said: “Since the conflict commenced in Ukraine, Norfolk made a commitment that everyone who arrives in Norfolk fleeing the war in Ukraine can get support.

“We are proud of the progress made supporting and resettling people in our county, with the support of all the district councils.

Liz Truss (left) and county council leader Kay Mason Billig (centre) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Lviv. Picture: Norfolk County Council
Liz Truss (left) and county council leader Kay Mason Billig (centre) at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Lviv. Picture: Norfolk County Council

“It is with this spirit of friendship and co-operation that we establish this MOU, outlining our commitment to fostering relationships across various areas of common interest across our regions.

“The objectives and priorities outlined in this Memorandum reflect our shared aspirations for collaboration and growth.

“From economic co-operation and education to science and technology, agriculture, arts, culture and beyond, we aim to facilitate knowledge transfer, educational exchanges, and trade opportunities between Lviv region and Norfolk.

“Together, we will explore avenues for partnership in sectors ranging from healthcare and tourism to aerospace and environmental sustainability.”

Cllr Fabian Eagle, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: “This opportunity all started with a connection that a small business in Swaffham Market had with a former Lviv resident, which shows all of our businesses, regardless of size, have an important part to play in Norfolk’s economic growth.

“I am immensely proud we have become the first region in the country to have formed an Memorandum of Understanding like this with Lviv and excited about the opportunities it promises to create across a range of our sectors.”

Maksym Kozytskyi has described the deal as “an unprecedented event”.

“Both Lviv region and Norfolk have something to share with each other and can share experience and knowledge to jointly build a brighter future for our citizens,” he said.

“I am sure that co-operation between Lviv region and Norfolk County will be fruitful and mutually beneficial. Thank you for your friendship and leadership.”

Eduard Fesko, Chargé d'affaires a.i. of Ukraine in the UK, added: “As Ukraine approaches the 70th anniversary of UNESCO membership, having confirmed our fundamental position in the defence of the world`s cultural heritage, it is truly heartwarming to see how two UNESCO-related places are coming closer, thus further building on the unprecedentedly close relations between our nations in the face of the Russian adversity.

“The two regions plan to embark on joint projects in trade, education, science and technology, IT, agriculture, arts, healthcare spheres, and much more.

“There is a vast untapped potential for co-operation, bringing tangible benefits to local communities of the Lviv region and Norfolk, and we wish the regions every success in their cooperation.”

Cllr Mason Billig was joined at the ceremony by Liz Truss, the South West Norfolk MP.

Also in attendance were Cllr Eagle, Cllr Chris Dawson, the county council’s rural champion, Chris Starkie, director of growth and investment, and Roberta Willner, head of economic development.

Nataliya Klymko, programmes co-ordinator for growth and investment, witnessed it too.

Ms Truss said: “This is a fantastic initiative by Norfolk County Council and the Lviv region, which will enhance our mutual economic links and boost business in Norfolk.”

Both Norwich and Lviv have links to UNESCO - Norwich is a UNESCO City of Literature, and the historic part of Lviv city is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

In 2022, Lviv was granted Freedom of the City of Norwich in solidarity with Ukraine.

Norfolk and Lviv have identified several key opportunities for collaborative working, including the TechBridge programme, a strategic partnership between the UK Government, Ukraine Ministry of Digital Transformation and Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs to forge connections between tech ecosystems.

This partnership currently runs to 2025 but may be extended, providing businesses in both locations with access to expert advice and support in navigating the barriers to UK-Ukraine trade.

There are also specialist investment accelerator programmes for Ukraine tech SMEs looking to expand overseas.

The skills and knowledge the local Lviv tech sector offers are recognised on the international level.

For example, Lviv IT specialists developed the Skype app and special effects for films such as Harry Potter and Spider-Man.

Norfolk also has a strong growing ICT/digital sector with several individual clusters, and the MoU will encourage collaboration within the sector between the regions.

Other opportunities for collaboration include an upcoming visit to the Theatre Royal Norwich in October by the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, led by leading conductor Theodore Kuchar.

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