SALT LAKE CITY--Jonathan Freedman was born and raised in New York. After completion of high school, he came to Utah to attend college at Brigham Young University. Between 1993 and 1995, Freedman served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Ukraine where he learned Russian and Ukrainian. He returned to BYU and graduated with a degree in Russian in 1998. While Freedman was a student at BYU, he and his two brothers started a clothing and furniture business called Downeast. Today the brothers operate 64 stores in 7 western states.
The root of Freedman’s association with Ukraine was his time there as a missionary, but in 2007, Freedman was referred to and approached by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Oleh Shamshur, and asked if he would be interested in serving as Honorary Consul of Ukraine. Ambassador Shamshur recommended Freedman as Consul, and about a year later he was instated in his current position and the consulate was opened in 2008.
Since his original time in Ukraine and becoming Honorary Consul, Freedman has been to Kyiv several times meeting with various foreign ministers and ministers of economy, culture, education, and others. In efforts to build relations between Utah and Ukraine he has facilitated and fostered trade between Utah and Ukraine.
According to Freedman, there is a nice Ukrainian community here with somewhere around 500 individuals integrated with Russian community in Utah. Some of these Ukrainians have moved here seeking asylum as refugees from the war in the Donbas region. Over two million people have been displaced to other parts of Ukraine, Europe, Russia, the United States, and elsewhere.
Freedman has served as Honorary Consul since 2008. He shared a meaningful memory of an event with the Ukrainian community here in Utah that took place the same year the consulate was opened. The Ukrainian community in Utah commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor genocide, a forced famine imposed by Joseph Stalin on Ukraine which killed 7 million people. Stalin closed the borders of the country in 1932 and 1933 and took all grain and other food from Ukraine to sell to Europe in order to fuel the industrial revolution of the Soviet Union. Utah Ukrainians have shared many stories of their relatives eating grass and leaves to survive. The commemoration included a flame carried from western Canadian and across the United States, making a stop in Salt Lake City. The Consul General based in San Francisco brought the flame to Utah and, together with Freedman, held a memorial service at the Joseph Smith Memorial building with a reception that followed at the Alta Club. In Freedman’s words, “The Holodomor is a horrific part of Ukrainian history which must never be forgotten. It was an honor and deeply sobering to have the Remembrance Flame stop in Salt Lake City”.
During his time as Honorary Consul, a number of dignitaries have visited Utah, including former President Poroshenko and his wife, four different Ukrainian ambassadors, and the Ukrainian Secretary of National Defense. Freedman has had the opportunity to set up meetings between Ukrainian diplomats and the Governor of Utah, the LDS First Presidency, business and civic leaders, and presidents of Utah universities, as well the Ukrainian community here. Last year, 100 Ukrainians attended a meeting with the Ambassador Chaly and his family. There are many events throughout the year, such as an annual Christmas party in January and 5K run in May to raise money and gather medical and other supplies for wounded soldiers and families affected by the war. Utah has an active community of Ukrainians that are passionate about their native country and, as Freedman states, “haven’t left their country in the rearview mirror.” They are very concerned about the state of affairs in Ukraine and their loved ones who are still there. To help connect with the Ukrainian community, there is a Utah Ukrainian Association Facebook page which facilitates meet ups, get togethers, and promotes other events such as a recent viewing of a Sundance film regarding the present war in Ukraine.
Freedman has several goals for increasing trade opportunities between Utah and Ukraine. There has never been a Utah trade mission to Ukraine, however he is active each month in helping individuals and businesses from the US find opportunities for investment in Ukraine as well as Ukrainians wanting to do business in Utah. Ukrainians living in Utah are industrious and hardworking. Many small businesses have been started by Ukrainians in Utah, such as landscaping companies, restaurants, and clothing brands.
Freedman has enjoyed associating with the Utah Consular Corps over the last 10 years, having served as a past president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. He is anxious to raise awareness of the Ukrainian consulate office and the goals of the Utah Consular Corps to help all foreign nationals in our community.