Maria Lypiatska on Leading Brand Ukraine with Resilience and Vision

We are honored to feature Maria Lypiatska, the Head of Brand Ukraine, a visionary leader with over a decade of rich experience in public and international sectors. Maria’s remarkable journey in global PR, communications, public administration, and notably, nation branding, has positioned her at the forefront of Ukraine’s strategic narrative during unprecedented times.

Maria took the helm of Brand Ukraine right before the country faced an immense crisis—Russia’s full-scale invasion. Join us as Maria shares her personal insights, the transformative initiatives at Brand Ukraine, and her expert views on the evolving landscape of nation branding in today’s multifaceted global crises.

Maria, could you share a bit about your personal journey and the most impactful experiences you’ve had while leading Brand Ukraine?

We founded Brand Ukraine two weeks prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Originally, we envisioned that the goal of our organization would be to help Ukraine build a strong international brand to attract tourists and stimulate foreign investment in the country’s economy. We had an ambitious mission to turn Ukraine into the world’s new lovemark, with a team of top-notch experts in international and strategic communication ready to bring our boldest creative ideas to life. However, on February 24, 2024, everything changed.

We knew that Russia didn’t just want our land, it wanted to destroy the very idea of Ukraine. Therefore, telling the world our story was a matter of survival. Having the global attention, we had to tell the world who we are, what we stand for, and make them care.

In 24 hours, we had to completely transform our activities and plans, placing the communication of Ukraine’s courageous resistance against Russia at the heart of all our communications, launching from bomb shelters, Ukraine’s official website and providing verified and up-to-date information on social media about Russia’s illegal invasion to millions of foreigners globally.

While foreign military analysts predicted the fall of Kyiv within days, we were preparing for a marathon and were ready to spare no effort to bring Ukraine closer to victory. Leveraging real human stories and a data-driven approach, our team began forming the country’s new digital voice, which would resonate with billions globally.

In this regard, the digital ecosystem, developed by Brand Ukraine in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, quickly emerged as our most powerful project, reaching over 1.6  billion digital contacts  in less than two years.

Other initiatives that had overwhelmingly positive impact on international audiences include the #OpenUpYourHeartForUkraine campaign at Eurovision 2023, the #FreeTheLeopards flashmob, and the Online Archive of Russian War Crimes.

Leading an organization has never been an easy task, but doing so in times of full-scale war presents an even more significant challenge. Regardless of the circumstances — whether it be missile and drone attacks, country-wide blackouts, or concerning news from the frontlines — our team pulls together and meaningfully contributes to Ukraine’s fight for freedom. While this can be emotionally distressing, no matter how difficult it becomes, we know what is at stake and what we are fighting for.

Building Ukraine’s strong national brand is crucial for securing long-term support from Ukraine’s strategic partners, which is why we are prepared to go to great lengths to continue our work in the most extreme conditions.

As a country branding professional, how do you see the major trends and developments in the field of country branding evolving, especially considering the global landscape of multi-crises and rapid changes?

We live in turbulent times. Democratic space is shrinking, armed conflicts and wars are escalating globally, and societies in many countries are becoming increasingly polarized. For country branding specialists like ourselves, these challenges underscore the significance of adhering to key brand work principles, such as authenticity and values.

To navigate the world of complex crises and uncertainty, we must remain true to our core values and have the courage to advocate for them loudly on the international stage through our national brands. In this regard, I believe that many countries could learn a lot from Ukraine.

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, one of our key communication narratives has been that Ukraine, by resisting Russia, not only defends itself but also fights for peace, democracy, human rights, and freedom of the whole world. This message deeply resonated with our international audiences worldwide, including Global South countries, making them more aware of the values they took for granted and inspiring them to take a more active part in defending them.

Cases like this demonstrate that even in the most challenging times, people respond well to messages that speak to their core values, prioritize authenticity, and foster international solidarity. I believe that in the rapidly changing global landscape, this is something that will remain timeless.

Another country branding trend, which I believe will play an increasingly important role in the future, is country’s contribution to global welfare. To remain internationally relevant, we must not focus solely on ourselves but clearly communicate how our countries contribute positively to resolving complex challenges and promoting global cooperation.

Your thoughts on the recently published Soft Power Index by Brand Finance – did Ukraine perform as expected? Where do you see strengths and areas to improve? And how important and useful are such rankings for a country branding team?

While in 2022 Ukraine made an unprecedented leap in the Global Soft Power Index, climbing 14 positions and reaching the 37th rank, in 2023, we witnessed a slight downturn.

Following the second year mark of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the country slipped to the 44th position. Although this decline was disappointing, it was anticipated. The initial shock of Russia’s invasion gradually waned, leading to a partial reversion in global perceptions of Ukraine to pre-2022 levels.

At the same time, Ukraine maintained its global familiarity, becoming the 16th most recognized country in the world. We also rose by 14 positions in the field of media and communication, reaching the 31st place in the ranking, and became the fourth most followed country in global news.

The decline in indicators directly impacted by the ongoing war, such as tourism, business, and trade, is both understandable and natural. However, the ranking also highlighted several areas in which perception can be improved. These include culture and heritage, education and science, and sustainability.

Ukraine’s voice in global conversations on these issues remains largely underrepresented, although we have a lot to say. The full-scale invasion has taught Ukrainians to transform their struggles into opportunities, emphasizing innovation and resilience. We are rebuilding schools to the sound of air-raid sirens to ensure our children’s unrestricted access to education. We are producing FPV drones to support our soldiers on the frontlines. We are using robotic technologies to demine our territories. These are just 1% of the achievements Ukraine can pridefully share with the world.

As for the relevance of rankings like the Global Soft Power Index for country branding professionals, I believe that they serve as invaluable tools for benchmarking and strategic planning. Assessing Ukraine’s perception in comparison to other countries gives an important insight into both our strengths and weaknesses, enabling us to optimize our branding strategies for maximum impact on the global stage.

What tactics have proven most effective in maintaining and expanding international support for Ukraine, especially in environments with competing global attention?

Our extensive experience in international communications has demonstrated that diverse audiences respond best to real human stories that evoke strong emotions and empathy. In all our communication campaigns, we try to surpass mere facts and figures and highlight how the full-scale Russian invasion impacts daily lives of ordinary Ukrainians.

Additionally, at Brand Ukraine, we prioritize building cultural bridges between Ukraine and its allied countries. This enables us to stay relevant to national and international agendas and resonate with our audiences on a deeper level.

For instance, last year, we launched a Thanksgiving Day campaign for our American audiences, thanking them for supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Using the social media pages and targeted ads, we distributed a gratitude video and customized thank-you cards for Americans from Ukrainian people. This campaign received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our audience, once again demonstrating the efficacy of a personalized and culturally sensitive approach.

At the same time, we recognize that in today’s data-driven world, emotional human stories must be supported by pragmatic facts and data. Therefore, we rigorously test all our communication materials to see our target audiences’ reactions and identify best practices.

We also rely on external expertise, drawing on useful insights from international rankings and our in-house analytics. For example, this March we released the second edition of Ukraine’s Global Perception Report which contains a comprehensive analysis of the country’s perception abroad. We use it regularly to refine our communication strategies and global messaging.

Looking inward: Could you share insights into innovative projects or collaborations aimed at preserving Ukrainian culture and heritage, especially under current challenges?

Last year, we launched the #WhatWeAreFightingFor international communication campaign, the key goal of which was to explain the foreign audiences why the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be a subject of negotiations under any circumstances and what every Ukrainian is fighting for.

As part of the project, we created an interactive website with 26 articles in English and Ukrainian, revealing the authentic culture, history, and heritage of Ukraine’s 24 regions, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the capital city of Kyiv. All articles were prepared in close cooperation with Ukraine’s leading academic institutions, such as the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, and the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.

The campaign won in the category of “Best Communications Strategy (Place Brand)” at the international conference City Nation Place Global 2023 in London. The total reach of #WhatWeAreFightingFor across digital media and social networks surpassed 15 million.

While this project did not directly address the issue of preserving Ukraine’s cultural heritage in times of war, it succeeded in making the country’s thousand-year old history and culture visible to millions of foreigners, who may have had no idea about Ukraine’s rich past before.

As disinformation campaigns evolve, what fresh approaches or technologies is Brand Ukraine utilizing to counteract these narratives effectively?

In 2022, we launched the Nations Against Disinformation (NAD) platform that united countries and peoples in the fight against the infodemic — the threat of disinformation. The partnership within the initiative envisages joint international campaigns and events, conferences, webinars and workshops to share the best practices for countering disinformation and misinformation. Ukraine has a unique experience in countering disinformation, formed over the years of fighting Russian propaganda. This is a powerful added value of our country for the entire world.

The initial phase of the project consisted of various components, including an in-depth research, targeted social media campaigns in China, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Turkey, and the UAE, and experience-sharing sessions with the project’s partners, including conference in Brussels, Belgium in 2022 and the upcoming conference on 4 June in Brussels, Belgium.

A couple of months ago, we launched the second phase of NAD. This time, we prepared surveys, quizzes, and an explainer for’s Instagram, Facebook, X, and LinkedIn pages. As part of the campaign, we tested our target audience’s ability to distinguish truth from fake news and disinformation in an interactive format. The initiative reached over 452,000 users across all social media platforms, becoming one of our most successful campaigns.

Considering this success and the newly emerging disinformation threats associated with the rapid development of AI, we intend to continue the initiative in the future, adapting our activities to address the most urgent challenges and burning issues.

How is Brand Ukraine preparing for the future in terms of rebuilding and promoting Ukraine’s image post-conflict, particularly in areas most affected by war?

As we enter the third year of the full-scale Russian invasion, we understand that the world’s attention to news from Ukraine is naturally waning, primarily due to global compassion fatigue. To remain relevant to the international agenda and our foreign audiences, we are  changing our approaches to international communications by adding more dimensions and contextualizing Ukraine’s story, moving away from discussing Ukraine solely in the context of the war-related news.

Currently, we are developing a new communication strategy that encompasses a broad range of topics, including Ukraine’s centuries-long struggle for freedom, technological potential, culture, and history. As a country at war that continues to foster technological innovation, implement EU integration reforms, and win international creativity awards, Ukraine can greatly contribute to international conversations on many burning issues that transcend disciplinary and geographical boundaries.

On June, 6, 2024 Brand Ukraine will host its first Brand Ukraine International Conference, focusing on Ukraine’s best communication practices in times of war and contextualizing them within the broader framework of global trends and challenges. The conference will explore the multifaceted image of Ukraine and its future, forging pathways towards recovery and growth. We aim for the conference to establish professional connections and build bridges between Ukraine’s nation branding and strategic communications experts and their counterparts from around the globe.

I’ll take this opportunity to invite everyone interested in Ukraine’s unique experience in strategic communications, nation branding and countering disinformation to save the date and visit Kyiv in June. More information will follow here.

Reflecting on your interview with City Nation Place last year, what has been the most significant lesson learned or change in strategy you’ve implemented as a result of ongoing challenges and experiences?

Following the unprecedented surge of global interest in Ukraine at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, in 2023, mentions of the country dropped by 20% in international media and by 40% in social media.

However, this does not imply that foreign audiences have lost interest in Ukraine. On the contrary, our research suggests that most people, especially in allied countries, still strongly support Ukraine’s courageous struggle for independence and freedom.

Nevertheless, this trend indicates the need for us to reconsider our approach to international communications by emphasizing common interests with our partners and highlighting how we contribute to tackling complex global challenges.

Therefore, Brand Ukraine is shifting towards more pragmatic international and strategic communications, based on the underlying idea that supporting Ukraine is not only the right thing to do but also in the national interests of our allies and the world as a whole.

At the same time, we still strongly believe in the power of human stories, and they will inevitably remain the cornerstone of all our future communication campaigns and projects.

Lastly, we’d love to hear your thoughts on The Place Brand Observer. How does it support your nation branding work?

I believe that The Place Brand Observer is an amazing platform for collaboration among country branding professionals globally. Considering that the scope of the nation branding field is quite narrow, your yearbooks, podcast and in-depth expert interviews are invaluable sources of information and inspiration for our entire team.

Coming from Ukraine, I cannot overstate the importance of value-driven partnerships and collaborations that transcend national boundaries and contribute to addressing global issues in meaningful and creative ways. Platforms like yours are essential for us to voice our struggles related to the full-scale Russian invasion and share our unique nation branding expertise on a global level.

Thank you, Maria.

More about the work and team of Brand Ukraine here

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