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The Viking warrior’s battle in Odessa

05 Jul, 2020
The Viking warrior’s battle in Odessa

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There is a Viking monument in Odessa: a six-ton stone inscribed with Scandinavian runes, which is the second largest one in the world. Vikings used to engrave them to celebrate an important victory.

Vikings were brave warriors and one of the bravest recently appeared in Odessa, because he fought against a very powerful enemy: the corruption of Ukrainian public administration.

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Odessa's rune stone

This is the story of the Danish company BIIR Engineering and its Ukraine Country Manager Thomas Sillesen, who fought many battles to protect his Company from criminal threats by local public officials.

BIIR’s story in Ukraine is really an adventure. In 2013, the first office was opened in Lugansk, with only 8 employees working there. The company stayed in Lugansk when the city was occupied, until one day some armed people attacked their building and threw a Molotov cocktail into the office. Therefore, in the summer of 2014 the company had to evacuate the employees with their families to a safe place and Odessa was chosen as the new office.

After moving to Odessa, Ukrainian BIIR branch started enlarging. In 4 years, the staff has grown to 130 employees, mostly engineers, who provide consulting services for western industrial companies. BIIR deals with renewable energies, now being one of the largest consulting companies in the wind energy industry. In addition to this specialisation, the company deals with the reconstruction of oilrigs, the design of the conveyor systems for airports, the development of software and industrial design. In order to satisfy the growing demand of the market, BIIR recruits talented engineers from all over Ukraine. Recently, it signed an agreement with Kharkov Polytechnic University to complete the training of engineers in accordance with the EU standards.

The Danes have the habit run the business only in accordance with the law, without any compromise with request of bribes. The rules of BIIR Engineering are simple:

“We strictly follow the laws and, if we meet officials breaking the law, we are ready take them to the Court. Following the law, the truth is always at our side, and that fact makes our life much easier”.

As a consequence of this approach, Danish engineering company BIIR won an All-Ukrainian contest “Conscientious Taxpayer of year” (offered by the European Business Association) in the field of law, consulting, scientific and technical activities in Odessa region, for three years: 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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It’s funny, but in Denmark we 100% follow all the rules as well, but nobody gives us any awards for this, while in Ukraine we are winning the 3rd year in a row!

Thomas Sillesen, Chairman of BIIR in Ukraine

But over the years there have been several conflicts between BIIR and the officials:

  • The Customs Office wanted a bribe for the approval of the import declaration.
  • The Tax Office didn’t want to register an investment.
  • The Pension Fund refused to pay a compensation to BIIR.

Nevertheless, the Company refused to pay the bribes and continued suing the Pension Fund until the justice was finally achieved.

But the biggest battle, where the Danes demonstrated intolerance to corruption, was when they purchased a building located at the Prymorska street in Odessa to place an office in it. The building became an object of a raider attack: a warrant issued by a corrupted judge froze the use of the building by BIIR. The raiders who bribed judges and the prosecutor, wanted to occupy the place (or to receive a bribe to unblock the execution), but our Viking defended his rights in court and won in February of 2018.

This incident has taught us to stick to our guns and go on fighting till we win. We have also received a powerful support from the people that want a better Ukraine. Our common efforts shouldn’t prove futile, that is why we will develop not only BIIR Ukraine, but the other companies of our group will also invest in Ukraine in the coming years. Complete transparency and lawfulness of business are of paramount importance. In this way it both helps to avoid problems with law and provides much better relationships with banks. In their turn, banks knowing us as an honest and transparent company have a higher degree of security for their loans, and offer us interest rates which are significantly lower than for the other Ukrainian companies.

Thomas Sillesen, Chairman of BIIR in Ukraine
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Erik Sandquist, Swedish artist

In honour of this victory, BIIR’s management installed a six-ton rune stone, over 180 cm tall, in front of the Odessa’s building (Primorskaya street 3b). It was made in Denmark by the Swedish artist and rockstar Erik Sandquist (“Erik the Red”) and then transported to Ukraine. It is the second biggest rune stone in the world. The biggest one is in Jelling in Denmark, raised by King Harald Bluetooth thousand years ago.

On the Stone there is a mythological scene engraved: a raven of Odin, the Scandinavian god of wisdom, holding a snake in the claws as a symbol of the victory against corruption. The mask of Odin, is inspired by the rune stone found in Aarhus, the city where the BIIR headquarter is located. Odin’s mask protected against evil spirits. The last side shows a snake being killed by a raven. The Raven is well known bird in Nordic mythology. Odin had two ravens Huginn and Muginn who flew all over the world gathering wisdom and information. But the raven was also the warbird of the Vikings, and a legend says that when the raven appears and spread its wings, the Danes win!

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Berezan rune stone

The historical ties between Denmark and Ukraine are ancient and deep. Thousand years ago, Vikings sailed through rivers of Ukraine on the way from the Baltic Sea to the East Roman Empire. One of the Vikings called Rurik settled in Kiev, and he became a king during the most prosperous period of Ukraine history. Vikings came as tradesmen, but where always prepared to fight. To celebrate another victory, they placed a rune stone on Berezan Island (also known as the Island of St. Aitherios), where the Dnieper River meets the Black Sea, the only one rune stone in Eastern Europe, so far, until the Odessa’s one appeared.

The Odessa Journal

The Odessa Journal

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