A New Government for Ukraine: One Female Minister and "Indispensable" Arsen Avakov
4 March, 2020
The proposed ministerial nominations, together with representatives of the President's Office, await the vote for the new government during the Verkhovna Rada session, Kyiv, March 4, 2020 Photo: Oleksandr Kuzmin / UNIAN

After the departure of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers headed by Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, the Ukrainian parliament voted in a new government. With the support of 291 lawmakers, Denys Shmyhal — formerly the minister for communities and territories development of Ukraine — has become Ukraine’s new Prime Minister.

Only four Honcharuk-era ministers are staying in their exact seats. Those are: the Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, Justice Minister Denys Malyuska, Infrastructure Minister Vladyslav Krykliy, and, of course, the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

READ MORE: Ukraine's Parliament Dismisses Honcharuk's Government

Two other ministers are staying in the Cabinet but doing a switcheroo: Vadym Prystaiko went from being the foreign minister to the deputy prime minister for Eurointegration and Dmytro Kuleba did the complete opposite, taking on the post of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Five ministries currently have no heads: the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Education.

All the posts — apart from those of the ministers of defense and foreign affairs that were put forward for voting by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — were voted in a package vote, with the support of 277 MPs.

READ MORE: What We Know About Upcoming Personnel Changes in Ukraine Government

Hromadske has gathered information about the Cabinet’s new arrivals and old-timers to give you an idea of what Ukraine will work with in the nearest future.

"New Kids on the Block"

Minister of Defense — Andriy Taran
Andriy Taran is a retired lieutenant general and a professional intelligence officer, who worked in the 1990s in the Defense Intelligence Directorate General. From 2008 to 2011, he was the Deputy Head of that Office. Under Leonid Kuchma's second presidency, Taran was a military attaché at the Embassy of Ukraine to the United States.

He has served in the Donbas since 2015. Taran was appointed to the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC) in Donbas where he succeeded General Oleksandr Rozmaznin. At that time, Ukrainian and Russian JCCC monitors worked together at the Soliana Polyana sanatorium in Soledar of the Donetsk region, where the center was located. Russian observers left Ukraine at the end of 2017. 2015 was a difficult year, and the shelling along the front line had to be stopped, in agreement with the Russian military leadership.

In the 2019 presidential election, Taran headed the election campaign headquarters of candidate Ihor Smeshko.

Previous Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodniuk told hromadske that he had at one time refused to take Taran as his adviser, but did not give reasons.

According to our sources, Taran was proposed by the head of the President's Office, Andriy Yermak, as a minister with experience in working with both Russians and Americans.

Minister of Finance — Ihor Umansky

In 2004-2005 he worked at the National Bank of Ukraine in the department responsible for work with troubled banks. In 2005-2006 he was Deputy Chairman of the Board at Ukrtransnafta (a subsidiary of Naftogaz).

In 2008-2010, he was Deputy Minister of Finance under Viktor Pynzenyk, after whose resignation he served as acting Finance Minister of Ukraine for less than a year.

In 2014-2015, he worked in the government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Deputy Minister of Finance under Natalie Jaresko, later as an adviser to President Petro Poroshenko. He met with Volodymyr Zelenskyy's team after his triumph in the election.

Umansky opposes the introduction of the tax on withdrawn capital promised by Zelenskyy in his election program. In his interviews, he said that Ukraine needs to toughen its dealings with international financial institutions, including the IMF, and disagrees on some of their terms, including opening up Ukrainian markets to foreign companies.

Minister Of Health — Illya Yemets

While doctors are preparing for consultations, hospitalizations and the further spread of the coronavirus, and Health Minister Zoryana Skaletska spent a fortnight in observation in a sanatorium in central Ukraine (along with evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan), she was replaced as the head of the ministry a day before her scheduled return to office. 

Meet cardiac surgeon Illya Yemets who was appointed the new health minister. He heads the Center for Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery. Yemets is a renowned physician with a wealth of honors and achievements. 

Yemets was the first doctor to carry out operations on newborns with complex heart defects in independent Ukraine. He has patented 16 products and techniques and has received several awards. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Pride of the Country Award 2009 (a competition funded by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation) in the nomination “Sensation of the Year” for his invention — to use cord blood instead of donor blood for surgery on a baby's heart. The award was then presented to him by Mykola Azarov — the fugitive ex-prime minister. 

Six months later, after Yanukovych paid him a visit at his clinic, Yemets would assume the position of Minister of Health, but only for five months (from December 21, 2010 to May 17, 2011). The surgeon was criticized for working in Azarov’s government, but rotations in the health ministry were common at the time. Yemets left the post with a scandal. His colleagues, fellow ministers, hinted that he had conflicts with Azarov, who publicly reprimanded him, as well inside the ministry. Now Yemets explains that he took the high road. And the fact that he wrote a resignation letter helped him avoid “lustration”. Then he took a leave of absence as a minister and went to training abroad. When he returned, he resigned, explaining only that some of his steps did not appeal to senior management.

Interestingly, back in November 2019, Yemets did not see himself as prime minister and said to journalists he would bring more benefit as a practicing surgeon:

Currently, I can bring more benefit in my specialty and by setting an example. The position of a minister requires a lot of strength, health, time, key questions. This area, of course, requires no less attention than surgery, but I prefer the latter because I can see my efficiency."

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories Oleksiy Reznikov

Oleksiy Reznikov is a lawyer with many years of experience. He was the secretary of the Kyiv city council, as well as the deputy head of the Kyiv state administration under Vitaliy Klitschko.

In 2019, Reznikov replaced Roman Bezsmertny in the political subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. According to Reznikov, he was invited there by the head of the Ukrainian delegation Leonid Kuchma.

Reznikov was born in Lviv and graduated from the Law Faculty of the Lviv State University in 1991 with a specialty in jurisprudence.

In 2008-2014 he was a member of the Kyiv City Council of the 6th convocation and a member of the commission on law, order and parliamentary ethics. He participated in the development of one of the drafts of the Tax Code of Ukraine, the Law of Ukraine "On the Bar and Practice of Law", as well as amendments to the Civil Procedure Code.

Minister for Veteran Affairs — Serhiy Bessarab

Serhiy Bessarab, a military lieutenant-general, was the commander of the troops of the Territorial Directorate of the North (2005-2007). First Deputy Commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (2012–2015). Since 2015, he has been Deputy Chief of Staff.

Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers — Oleh Nemchinov 

In 2005 Oleh Nemchinov became a member of the Central Leadership of the Ukrainian People's Party and was the president of the Athletics Federation of Lviv region. In 2016 he became a member of the Development Commission at the Federation.

Simultaneously, Nemchinov worked in the Lviv City Council's department of youth work, teaching at the Lviv vocational-technical school, and was an assistant to Batkivshchyna MP Oleksandr Hudyma.

In 2006-2010 he was a member of the Lviv Regional Council. From January to February 2016 he participated in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine, and from June 2016 to January 2017 supervised the Civil-Military Administration in the villages of Kominternove, Vodiane, Zayichenko in the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region. In 2017 he was State Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, and before that he worked at the State Border Guard Service.

Minister of Social Policy — Maryna Lazebna

Maryna Lazebna is the former head of Ukraine’s State Social Service. She’s an economist, a manager, and has a PhD in economic sciences. Since 2000, she had worked in the Ministry of Economy as a specialist in the management of social forecasts and economic expertise of social reforms. Later she was appointed Deputy Head of the Department for Pension Reform and European Integration of Ukraine.

During 2003-2011, Lazebna was a chief specialist at the Office of the Social Relations Reform Strategy at the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers, and later as Chief Specialist at the Department of Social Policy and Labor.

She then served as aide to the Deputy Prime Minister and as Director of the Department of Labor and Employment at the Ministry of Social Policy.

In 2013-2014, she headed the State Employment Service until it was liquidated.

Minister of Community and Territorial Development —  Oleksiy Chernyshov

Oleksiy Chernyshov is a businessman, investor, founder of investment and development company Eastgate Development and investment company VI2 Partners, as well as founder of Kyiv Vision Foundation, an organization involved in attracting investments and supporting cultural projects.

Minister of Youth and Sports — Vadym Guttsayt

Vadym Guttsayt is a fencer. He previously headed the Fencing Federation of Ukraine. At the 1991 Fencing World Championships, Guttsayt was third in the individual standings. He participated in three Olympiads: in 1992, 1996 and 2000. He was the mentor of the Ukrainian team of female fencers who won the Olympic gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

He ran for MP from the Servant of the People's Party in the snap parliamentary elections of 2019 at number 81 on the list, but eventually refused to go to the polls. Since 2018, he has been the Director of the Department of Youth and Sports of the Kyiv City State Administration.

READ ALSO: Meet the Ministers: What We Know About Ukraine’s New Cabinet

Familiar faces

Prime Minister — Denys Schmyhal

This is not the first time Denys Shmyhal replaces a Honcharuk in the past year. Last August, Volodymyr Zelenskyy appointed him head of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional State Administration instead of Oleh Honcharuk. A little more than six months later, the Ukrainian Parliament approved Shmyhal as Prime Minister. This time in place of Oleksiy Honcharuk.

The new prime minister is nine years older than his predecessor and two years older than the president. Zelenskyy calls him an "experienced manager".

READ MORE: This is Ukraine's New Prime Minister (and His Cabinet), According to Sources

From 2009 to 2013, Shmyhal worked in the Lviv Regional State Administration. Mykola Kmit (chairman of the Lviv Regional State Administration in 2008-2010), who brought in Shmyhal, describes him as a "modern official".

"He is not someone to tell you to eff off. He is the person that knows how to manage. At the same time, he is modern — 10 years ago he was preparing presentations in English in order to attract foreign investors," says Kmit.

Shmyhal came to the civil service from business — prior to that he spent 14 years working as an accountant and economist in Lviv’s private enterprises. Ivano-Frankivsk media quoted the official's autobiography: in 1995 he started working as an accountant at a bank. Then he moved to Lviv Bus Factory (LAZ). Initially as an accountant and later as director of economic and strategic development. Together with his father-in-law, he founded a company that engaged in developments in the field of optical physics.

Following Viktor Yanukovych's victory in the 2010 presidential election, Kmit left the Lviv Regional State Administration, whilst Shmyhal remained.

"Schmyhal’s philosophy is being an official and a good performer," recalls Vasyl Horbal, the first chairman of the Lviv Regional State Administration under Yanukovych. Horbal is still in touch with Shmyhal. Under Yanukovych, Shmyhal did not make great advances in his career. In 2013 he was the director of the department of economic development and investment. But the official was enrolled in the Presidential Reserve "Elite of the Nation".

With the onset of the Revolution of Dignity, he resigned from civil service. He returned to it already after the Revolution — in May 2014 he was appointed Deputy Head of the Main Department of the Ministry of Revenue in the Lviv region. But within a year, Schmyhal resigned again and returned to the private sector.

He initially worked as a vice president of Lvivkholod, but in 2017 he moved to Rinat Akhmetov’s DTEK. Until last year, Shmyhal was the director of Burshtyn thermal power plant. In a later interview, he asserted that he was not personally acquainted with Akhmetov and only saw him on TV. Horbal also argues it would be wrong to call Shmyhal Akhmetov’s person — "because he was a hired manager at DTEK".

After Zelenskyy’s victory in the 2019 election, Shmyhal returned to public service — in August he headed the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional State Administration. Initially, the future prime minister applied for the post of chairman of the Lviv Regional State Administration, but lost the contest, after which the president appointed him to a similar position in Ivano-Frankivsk, a region heavily influenced by another oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky.

Even during the contest for the head of the Lviv Regional State Administration, a deputy from the Servant of the People, Oleksandr Dubinsky, "attacked" an official close to Kolomoisky. In particular, Dubinsky claimed that Shmyhal was placed in this position by a local businessman Serhiy Badyak. In response, Schmyhal admitted in an interview that he knew Badyak, whom he called "a successful professional manager and founder of the only successful private industrial-logistic park in Horodok in the Lviv region." Shmyhal has been a supporter of industrial parks since his work in the Lviv Regional State Administration.

Shmyhal did not spend much time in Ivano-Frankivsk though. On February 4, the Ukrainian Parliament approved him as Deputy Prime Minister — Minister of Development of Territorial Communities.

What is the secret to Schmyhal's rapid career advance under Zelenskyy's presidency? 

Officials and MPs told hromadske they are convinced that the main reason is the personal sympathy of the president. How and when it arose is unknown. According to one version, credit goes to Serhiy Trofimov, the first deputy chairman of the President's Office in charge of regional policy, who lobbied installing Shmyhal to deputy prime minister. Others claim that it was once again Badyak’s work. hromadske asked both Trofimov and Badyak for comments, but at the time of publication has not received a response.

Minister of Foreign Affairs — Dmytro Kuleba

38-year-old Dmytro Kuleba is a graduate of the Institute of International Relations, majoring in international law. He began his diplomatic career in 2003: working for seven years at the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to international organizations in Vienna (defending his Ph.D. thesis on the same subject) and three more at the Secretariat of the Foreign Minister, where he took care of the image of Ukraine abroad.

Kuleba briefly put his career at the Foreign Ministry on hold, taking lead of the UART Cultural Diplomacy Fund. In 2014, after the annexation of the Crimea, he returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an ambassador for special assignments, where he was responsible for the agency’s communication policy. From 2016 to 2019 he headed the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the Council of Europe.

In Honcharuk’s government, Kuleba became Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration (previously held by Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze). Kuleba initiated the launch of the “Pulse of the Agreement”, which since 2017 monitors Ukraine's fulfillment of its Association Agreement with the European Union. He also submitted a request to NATO to grant Ukraine the status of an Enhanced Opportunity Partner (EOP).

Kuleba’s tenure in the post of Deputy Prime Minister drew little criticism in the public space. It was only his statement that it was “too early to apply for NATO membership action plan”, as well as the decision to abandon the plan for a customs union with the E.U. that was met with mixed reception (although the latter was welcomed by the expert community).

In an interview with Kuleba in the position of Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, he stressed that the only condition for his exit from the government would be European integration turning into "window dressing". "But for as long as it is possible to really integrate Ukraine into the West and Western structures, I will be doing my job," Kuleba noted.