Oleksiy Feliv speaks with the Kyiv Post on Dec. 5 at his office in Kyiv. Feliv, the managing partner at Integrites, says that his law firm has been placing an accent on working with companies within the renewables sector (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)
Even when Oleksiy Feliv was very young, everyone around him said he had a clear talent – he was an excellent talker. So when the question of Feliv’s future profession arose, it was natural that they all suggested he become a lawyer.
Years later, that’s just what he has become – Feliv is now the managing partner at Integrites, an international law firm with offices in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and representative offices in London, Amsterdam and Munich.
Named among the Top 100 Lawyers in Ukraine in 2018, Feliv is especially well known for implementing huge projects in the renewable energy sector, which has experienced rapid growth over the past few years in Ukraine.
In fact, this area is Feliv’s favorite area, as the positive effects are clear to see.
“Very often lawyers are in such a situation when they work, work, work and the result is just a piece of paper,” Feliv says.
“But when you work in renewables the result is a tangible reality. For example, wind turbines that spin and produce electricity.”
Feliv says Integrites is currently the market leader in terms of the size of wind power projects it has consulted on, as well as transaction amounts that it closed.
“We close the largest deals in Ukraine – $400 million plus,” he says.
His favorite project, that of NBT, a Norwegian company that is building a large 250-megawatt wind power plant in Kherson Oblast near the Syvash Lake, would be quite ordinary in Europe, but is unique for Ukraine, Feliv says.
Integrites is a legal advisor for NBT. The site of the project at Syvash Lake – a chain of shallow lagoons located to the west of the Azov Sea, between Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast and Crimea, which is currently under Russian occupation – obviously adds to its challenges, and risks.
NBT’s total investment in the project has reached 370 million euros so far.
However, the project’s main feature is not its location, nor its value – Integrites has participated in larger projects – but the way it is being financed. It is a first in history in the sphere of project financing in Ukraine.
“This case, which we took from scratch, developed very quickly, and we were able to get project financing there – it involves seven banks, something that makes (the project) truly unique. It’s also located close to (Russian-occupied) Crimea,” said Feliv.
Another renewables project yet to be disclosed by Integrites is of a higher value, but no project financing has been secured yet – it has political support and funding from the implementing company’s country of origin.
Clients’ hot topics
Over the past four years the issue most concerning clients have changed, partly because many legal areas in Ukraine have seen improvements, but mainly because the situation, unfortunately, has taken a turn for the worse, due to revolution and war.
After the initial wave of problems, in 2014-2016, when Russia had just started its war on Ukraine in the east, clients were mostly concerned about court fees, debt restructuring, and disputes with creditors and banks due to the devaluation of the national currency, with businesses unable to meet loan repayments.
Now, the situation is much better. Starting from 2016-2017, most businesses have recovered and restructured. And most importantly, a new foreign investments have started to come to Ukraine.
“This is very positive, and it’s something we haven’t seen since 2008,” says Feliv.
“Intrgrites is currently advising three factories with foreign investments – on packaging, woodworking and the assembly of cable bundles for cars. One of the factories is worth 300 million euros, and this is a huge investment,” says Feliv.
Among the other obvious positive changes is the creation of the new Supreme Court, the reform of the online state registries, as well as the simplification of land and construction documentation and procedures.
On the other hand, Feliv says the situation with the law enforcement agencies and in the prosecutor’s office is not improving, and this is a drag on reform in the country.
“The Prosecutor’s Office needs a full restart,” he says. “Today, very often there are unwarranted criminal proceedings that impose arrests or block businesses, and they are being done deliberately,” he said.
The anti-corruption program of the National Police is stuttering as well, because the courts are blocking the work they do on investigations, Feliv says.
“As the Germans say, this is the last castle to fall to make Ukraine more successful,” says Feliv.
But the hottest topic in the past few weeks is martial law, which was imposed on Nov. 28 in 10 oblasts of Ukraine after Russia’s attack on the Ukrainian navy in the Black Sea on Nov. 25. The move has spooked business greatly, with some clients frantically calling Feliv, asking him to brief them on the basics of operating under martial law.
“For the first two days the phone was ringing off the hook,” Feliv says.
“But now we can see that it’s more of a political instrument than a real economic constraint.”
All the same, the imposition of martial law was a negative signal to business, as it was immediately perceived as a possible precursor to all-out war. For many companies, that perception would be enough to scare them away from the market.
West is best?
Because the east of Ukraine is now so much associated with instability and war, a clear preference has emerged among investors for the west of Ukraine, Feliv says.
But the environment, in terms of culture and corruption, is different as well.
“When investors come to Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast they are welcomed there, helped in every possible way, and we don’t see corruption there, or the breakdown of projects,” Feliv says.
In contrast, the most difficult region in which to run a business, in terms of corruption, is not Donetsk or Luhansk oblast, but Dnipropetrivsk Oblast in south-central Ukraine, according to Feliv.
“There are so many conflicts of interests between groups, as well as corruption,” he says.
“For us as a lawyers, this oblast is one of the most difficult (to work in).”
Dreams of teaching
Having already had a successful career in practice as a lawyer, Feliv says he wants to pass on some of his knowledge to future lawyers, teaching in a Ukrainian university.
The main thing standing in his way is a simple lack of time.
“I’d have to write up a lot of methodological materials, and do a lot more paperwork before starting to teach students. I simply don’t have the time,” says Feliv.
But if he were to become a teacher, and was able to choose from all of the universities in Ukraine in which to teach, Feliv says he would opt for the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in the capital.
“I believe that it has the best educational level, judging by the students and employees I have interviewed,” he says.