by Alona Liashenko
KIEV, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- As a finalist of a Chinese proficiency competition, Kirill Chuyko is far from satisfied with the result and planning to head for Beijing to polish his Chinese language skills there.
"In today's business environment, you need to speak Chinese fluently if you are going to set up a successful business or get a good job," said the Ukrainian man, who have taken part in the 12th "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students in Changsha, Hunan Province.
Thanks to his good Chinese speaking skills, Chuyko, in his early twenties, got a handful of job offers from Ukrainian private firms. He, however, chose to work for a Chinese company.
"I like to work with the Chinese, because they are very decent people. They always put the human relationship in the first place. The whole team works as brothers and sisters -- harmoniously, vigorously, with enthusiasm and inspiration," Chuyko said.
Growing up in a small industrial town in eastern Ukraine, Chuyko had no opportunity to learn Chinese in the school. He started learning Mandarin in university when he was 17 and now he is fluent in reading and writing up to 2,500 characters.
"You are never too old to start learning. In addition to my university classes, I used the free Internet courses, studied Chinese songs and watched movies in Chinese," said Chuyko, one of the about 2,000 Ukrainian language-learners who choose Mandarin as a second foreign language after English.
Nationwide, just around a dozen of Ukrainian public schools now offer Chinese classes and optional courses for kids. However, hundreds of Ukrainian adults and children learn Mandarin during group courses in private language schools.
To promote Chinese, the government is mulling a pilot program to open specialized schools in Ukraine with the Mandarin language of tuition in the near future.
At the university level, the Chinese language is now on the upswing with eight higher educational establishments offering it.
University applicants tend to choose Chinese scholarship, instead of German, Spanish or other languages that have long been more popular in Ukraine, as they realize that China is becoming the top player on the world stage, lecturers said.
According to Maria Andrietz, a Chinese instructor at Kiev University of International Relations, many Ukrainian students see Mandarin as a strategic language, which opens a great opportunity for professional development.
"Students learn Chinese because they consider it as very promising and influential. Some students dream to visit or even to live in China," Andrietz told Xinhua.
Another lecturer, Lubov Poinar from Kiev National Taras Shevchenko University, said the number of university students studying Chinese has nearly tripled since 2005.
"The rising popularity of Chinese has been noticeable," Poinar said.
The growing influence of Chinese language also makes Ukrainians more familiar with the Chinese culture.
Various cultural activities such as traditional Chinese tea ceremonies, Chinese martial arts festivals, spring festival performances and other events, are often staged in Ukraine.
"The Feng Shui classes and paraphernalia have long been popular in Ukraine. It has become fashionable to decorate homes and offices by the rules of the ancient Chinese study of geomancy," Antonina Hrunskaya, head of the Kiev Chinese interpreters professional club, told Xinhua.
"Many people have pyramids, 'wind chime' with metal tubes, small figurines of cats at home to attract wealth."
The Chinese Lunar New Year traditions are also popular in Ukraine, Hrunskaya said, highlighting that each year more and more Ukrainians buy Chinese zodiac mascots on the eve of the winter holidays.
However, she said, the majority of Ukrainians perceive China through the lens of material culture, but miss the point -- the deep philosophical concept of Chinese traditions.
Kiev and Beijing, Hrunskaya said, should deepen their cultural and people-to-people exchanges to further promote mutual understanding between their peoples.
"Reading will help Ukrainians to better understand Chinese culture. I think, there is a need to translate more Chinese imaginative, art, scientific literature into Ukrainian," she added.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which is an integral part of Chinese culture, is also becoming popular in Ukraine.
"People turn to a traditional Chinese doctor for help when they lost faith in Western type of treatment," Hu Yuemei, a PhD in classical Chinese medicine, told Xinhua.
The 47-year-old, who has been practicing in Kiev for 14 years and serves as head of the Kiev-based "Dao" health center, said Ukrainians trust Chinese medicine, because they see results.
"TCM is gaining prominence here through word-of-mouth. Patients, who have been cured by Chinese medicine, recommend it to their friends and relatives," Hu said.
Although the majority of Ukrainians consider TCM as an alternative treatment, they have begun to recognize that such method has much to offer, the doctor said.
"Ukrainians see the advantage of Chinese medicine in its safety and long-lasting effect. Chinese medicine is based on the ancient Chinese philosophy. We treat naturally, with herbs and forces of nature," said the expert.