Untitled Interview With Deputy Head of Zelenskyy’s Presidential Office
17 August, 2019
Deputy Head of the Presidential Office Yuriy Kostiuk during an interview, Kyiv, August 13, 2019 Hromadske

Former screenwriter of Kvartal 95 Studio, co-author of the series “Servant of the People” and close colleague of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Yuriy Kostiuk, is the President’s Office’s deputy head for Humanitarian Affairs.

The Office as a structure was created on June 25 in lieu of the Presidential Administration (PA). Yuriy is one of the five deputies of the head of Office Andriy Bohdan.

Hromadske met him at Bankova street, where the PA was previously located and which has now been converted to the President’s Office. From day one Zelenskyy’s team wanted to move out of there, but is still not in a position to. Moving would require complicated logistics and additional funds. 

Like the rest of Zelenskyy’s team, Kostiuk rarely gives interviews. He gave this interview on one condition; there would be no headline. For him, a phrase taken out of context does not reflect the entirety of the conversation, and people only read the headlines. We agreed to this condition. It seemed like another warning to journalists, with whom, recently, the President’s Office has had a difficult relationship.

In early August, the media reported that the head of the President’s Office, Bohdan, had resigned. A photo with his handwritten statement was also published. Later, it was revealed that in fact Bohdan had not resigned, but instead members of Zelenskyy’s team had allegedly written notices, for future use, just in case.

A number of Ukrainian media claimed that the source of the fake news was Bohdan’s deputy, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who is responsible for information policy in the President’s Office.

Tymoshenko himself, despite screenshots of correspondence, denies this. Soon, Bohdan, when asked by Radio Liberty journalist about the incident, noted that Zelenskyy’s presidential campaign proved that they could communicate with the public without intermediaries: without journalists.

What does Kostiuk think about the relations with the media, humanitarian and information policy, language quotas, and speeches of President Zelenskyy? Find out in our exclusive interview.


Kostiuk’s Interview Condition

Before agreeing to this interview, you said that you had one condition, which we, as the media, agreed to. You said that this interview should be an interview without a headline. Could you please explain why you made this condition?

I noticed that most people do not read entire interviews, as a matter of fact - only the headline. This is especially true for social networks. It is not always possible to accurately convey the content of the entire conversation, which lasts an hour, with just one single remark.

Secondly, “one phrase headlines” provoke Facebook debates in the comments section. I do not want to give a reason for "Facebook trash."

It seems to me that our task, together with journalists, is to improve the information culture of citizens and encourage them not only to read the headlines, but to read the information in full.

This is an odd condition for you. Your team is famous for its sharp tongue, and very often your content - if this can be considered content that you, as a team, produce - also has headings and phrases out of context.

It is never out of context.

About competencies

You are officially the deputy head of the Presidential Office. By the way, there is no leadership list on the Office website. I mean, the leadership cannot be found. There is a section “President,” “President’s Wife,”  but the list of other leaders can only be found on Wikipedia.

I had no idea. We should ask Kyrylo Tymoshenko why it is like that.

I think that a digital solution is definitely needed here.

I am surprised because we even took photos for the website, so there should have been a section.

You are the deputy for humanitarian affairs. Could you please explain what kind of area this is? Is it the same thing your predecessor Rostyslav Pavlenko did, or is it something else that includes information policy?

The Administration became an Office, instead of departments we now have directorates. This is not simply because we wanted to change the name of the Administration to something modern. Above all, we wanted to attract market experts in the industry who are not already civil servants.

This practice already exists in the Cabinet. These are experts whose salary funds are allocated by European partners. We understand that in the current conditions it is very difficult to attract  to public service specialists from the industry. It is impossible with current salaries.

Was this one of the reasons for the restructuring?

The legislation stipulated for directorates. These are the so-called reform experts. We are now preparing a recruiting process for these specialists. The Directorate for Regional Policy has already announced a competition for vacancies.

What salary will such specialists have? Approximately: from and to.

I think it’s from 1,000 to 2,000 euros ($1,100-2,200). But don’t take my word for it. It is not the dream salary, but for Ukraine that is quite high.

Now regarding what the Directorate for Humanitarian Policy does. We are currently transferring some of the people from the administration to these directorates. The final structure will look like this: the department of culture, art, and spiritual development, the department of education and science, the department of sports, youth and tourism, the department of health and social policy. And what used to be called the Department of Domestic Politics, which was engaged in communication with the public and political processes.

It seems to me medicine and social sphere are not quite correctly located as things stand. These issues deserve a full-fledged directorate. But they are currently here.

Is everything in the Humanitarian Directorate?

Yes. Education too. But we closely intersect and communicate with Volodymyr Borodyanskyi, who is now the President’s adviser on humanitarian issues.

We know Borodyanskyi as a very effective and reasonable manager who has been involved in the media business for a long time. At the same time, this is a person who knows how to organize processes and people around him.

What Borodyanskyi is doing now, and what we are helping him with, is that we want to create a humanitarian strategy for the state. The humanitarian strategy, which includes the spheres of culture and art, i.e., cinema, theaters, museums, nature reserves, music, the musical sphere as a whole, books, publishing, libraries, religion, in one way or another - education as a separate industry, but it closely intersects with the humanitarian side of politics, sports, youth, tourism, information security, which is also, in principle, a separate entity.

What you’re saying is that Borodyanskyi is developing this strategy, but you are just overseeing this process or are you participating in it?

We are participating. We are a customer, if I may say so.

By “we” you mean the directorate, correct?

We, as in the directorate and the Office of the President of Ukraine. This was the proposal of Borodyanskyi and he seems to me to be absolutely right. In order to build any policy, there must be a foundation, which makes it clear in what direction we are moving.

How this strategy will be shaped is not just up to Borodyanskyi, nor me, nor the President. It’s not just us three quietly gathering in the kitchen to work closely all evening and write the humanitarian strategy.

In every area that I have mentioned, we gather expert groups. Some groups have already assembled. These groups include recognized experts in the field. Expert subgroups consist of about 20 people.

Certain challenges are established, on which expert groups then work. People of completely different views are present there. It is not only about our supporters, who have different, sometimes completely polar views. We wanted to abstract as much as possible so that this was not a politically biased story.

Do I understand correctly that the people who took part in the formation and implementation of the humanitarian policy during the time of [Petro] Poroshenko, including those who joined his political power, such as Volodymyr Vyatrovych, one of the flagships of the Poroshenko period in the field of humanitarian policy, are outside the process?

In reality, no. I do not know if they are included in the process. We talked and argued a lot on this subject, and I know that Borodyanskyi will definitely ask them to join these processes.

When these people gather at the table, we want the final stage of their discussion to be public and even broadcast on television.

In the ‘90s, I think, Americans had this national conference on the most important problems and issues. They invited 1,400 US citizens representing all social clusters of the population. At the same table there was a man with two degrees, a millionaire, an unemployed person, an illiterate person, and one who had two children.

We would like to include everyone in this discussion in order to get the scale of a national dialogue.

Your area of ​​responsibility is information policy. We know that there is a deputy head of the President’s Office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who is also involved in information policy. How do your areas of responsibility differ?

They are completely different. Tymoshenko’s area of ​​responsibility is information policy. I do get involved when necessary, for example, when it comes to more strategic things: when we talk about the state’s information strategy, when we conduct open or closed meetings with journalists. Thus Tymoshenko is fully responsible for information policy in the classical sense: communication with the media, organization of department’s work, writers, photographers, cameramen, etc.

And we have absolutely no conflicts or misunderstandings. Tymoshenko is one of the best organizers of the process among the people I know.

I helped out, for example, when we were looking for a spokesperson for the president. But I was not the only one. There were five-six of us. I also get involved, for example, with President’s speeches.

About Bohdan’s statement and relations with the media

Let us return to information policy and, of course, the incident over Bohdan’s resignation letter. What was it? Why? How do you generally assess this incident, for which the journalists blame Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the official representative of the President’s Office? Who leaked this statement to some journalists. What was the intention?

To be honest, I would prefer to abstain from explaining anything on behalf of Tymoshenko.

No, I would like to hear YOUR assessment. Tymoshenko has already spoken.

My assessment is whatever happened, happened. It seems to me that this is now a moot issue. Everyone spoke out, everyone wrote, posted some screenshots of the correspondence. Everybody has commented on it already.

But you personally have not commented on this. Since we found out that the information policy still concerns you in a certain way, I would like to hear your assessment. My next question is just about the point where the relationship between the Office and the media is now. I want to hear your opinion.

It seems to me that too much attention was paid to this issue.

So, for you, this is not a big incident?

Well, this incident is not big enough to be discussed for the second or third week straight. The situation is as follows: the notice was genuinely written. They were written by all the deputies. I can tell you why this happened.


Because all the deputies and the head of the Presidential Office, and the assistant, and the first assistant have rather close, friendly, long-standing comradely relations with Zelenskyy. Almost everyone, maybe someone joined us a little later, like, for instance, Goncharuk. We know that our opponents can launch certain information campaigns against this or that person in order to tarnish the image of the president. We wanted to show one thing with these statements - that the president does not keep us because of our close relations in the past life. We all wrote notices.

You also wrote one?


And is it also written with the wording “from the moment of desire”?

Well, those were templates. From the moment you desire, in fact. It is addressed to the President. That is, the president is not bound by friendly relations and can sign this notice at any moment. It was a gesture on our part.

Can you show us your notice?

The President has it. We submitted all our notices.

So it physically lies there?

We can photograph them all, we talked about this. We can publish them.

At what point now, after this story, are the relations of the Presidential Office with the media? You saw that it was not merely a story that sparked heated discussion on Facebook. There were several statements by media representatives who rightly decided that they were exploited in this story in a rather cynical way, since it was clear to everyone who leaked this notice, and Kyrylo Tymoshenko himself denied it. According to many journalists, this is an outright lie. How do you assess relations with the media now? Is it distrust? At the end of the day, this is the moment when we begin to work together.

It seems to me that we have good relations with journalists. Our relations with them. The journalists’ relations with us are probably not so good.

Now - yes.

They were never very good. It all started back in December.

We appreciate that you built your campaign on a different principle. You spoke frankly about this, that you have your own channels of communication, say, with the people of Ukraine. But we understand why journalists exist. It is clear that Zelenskyy himself will not begin to tell his story of his relationship with [oligarch Ihor] Kolomoisky, it is the task of journalists to ask him about it. Like many other things. We heard from the head of the Office’s opinion immediately after this incident with a notice: journalists are not needed to communicate with the people of Ukraine. Do you agree with this?

I believe that this statement and the subsequent reaction of journalists to it, paradoxically as it may be, proves that Bohdan was right. I shall explain what I mean. When Bohdan said that in order to communicate with society, in principle, we don’t need the mediation of journalists ... After he said this, I read the headlines claiming that the President’s Office is pursuing freedom of speech and wants to abolish classical journalism altogether, that the President’s Office does not respect journalists. That is, there was a lot of media that actually slightly distorted the meaning of what Bohdan said.

What was meant was that if we need to convey some kind of message or do something, or tell something to people, we don’t need to convene a huge press conference and give interviews. Something like that was meant.

But we live in the 21st century, everything is changing. Yes, our election campaign has proven that it’s sometimes easier to take the phone and speak out.

Why am I saying that he was right? Because, as it seems to me, his statement was somewhat distorted.

He is right in saying that if we want to convey a message, why do we need intermediaries who can twist this message? But there is an important point. In the 21st century, we understand the role of journalists, no one is going to influence freedom of speech, there should be journalistic investigations, there should be real, good journalistic analytics. It should all exist. You need to understand - everything in the modern world is very actively changing. Classical journalism must also be mobile.

Classical journalism is rebranding itself, just as the civil service is rebranding itself. We are talking about functions. There is a journalism function - watchdog, which should monitor those in power, your predecessors, your successors.

This is true when journalism genuinely performs such a function. Unfortunately, we do not have much...

But we have a democratic country. We see that Ukraine is quietly making its choice, in this case in your favor. Therefore, I think it is strange to blame all Ukrainian journalism, the fruits of which you also use, for distorting everything. 

In this instance, it was the President’s Office that misled people by sharing a piece of paper without giving an explanation on what sort of document it was or what its status was.

I don’t want you to spend the whole interview commenting on Bohdan and Tymoshenko, and yet, I want to understand one thing. Bohdan did not just say that out of the blue, there was a context. He tried to put an arm around a journalist, saying that she might fall. Those were circumstances under which it was obviously a rather ugly story of disrespect for the media that was doing its job. Therefore, it seems to me that you are now trying to protect both a little. But no one from the Office acknowledged the fact that, firstly, the media was cynically exploited, and secondly, that in any case, the relations between the media and the Office would need to be built, but obviously statements that "journalists are not needed" do not make a good start.

Relations did not start with that.

No, but they got to this somehow.

In my opinion, there were, in fact, a lot of journalists who correctly understood what was meant. “Not needed for communication” does not imply that it is now necessary to ban all journalism.

I hope no one thinks so in the President’s Office.

Of course. We live in a democratic country and it is simply absurd to even talk about it. It was all on the move. That's what they all wrote: Andriy Bohdan put his arms around a journalist…

It was very ugly. If an official had done this to me, I would have been indignant.

Did you see how it happened?

I saw the video. Of course, it looked incredibly ill-mannered.

Maybe we watched different videos.

About the interview in Tesla

You did an interview with Zelenskyy in a Tesla car. You were sitting behind. Why were you the one asking Zelenskyy questions? Why did you not invite a journalist instead?

Did you like the interview in Tesla?

The interview was interesting, but perhaps there weren’t enough poignant questions.

By the way, we planned to shoot here first.

In this room?

Yes. Then we changed our mind.

And why did you decide on this format at all? Why should it be YOU doing this?

Well, this format works for us, we worked like that during the election campaign. This is just a form of communication. I do not know how to explain it. There is something about it. Everyone still wants an exclusive. If you invite one person…

Yes, Zelenskyy himself spoke about this. And the rest are offended.

It seems to me that some journalists are offended because they were not given an exclusive interview.

I would like to talk about the role of journalism for people, because they cannot ask Zelenskyy directly It is for this purpose, in general, that there is a media institute that must professionally deal with the X-ray scanning of authorities and ask the difficult questions. Without this institution, democracy would not work. Of course, in 2019, the institute rethinks how it works, what technologies it uses. But its role does not change because of that. Do you understand that?

Of course, we understand its role. We understand that somewhere, somehow the tools are changing. But now we can be asked all questions also in comments, and they are thoroughly read. I am not saying that it should be like that. I would not really want to be perceived as a vicious enemy of journalism after our interview.

Say something to reporters. You now have the opportunity to say something to the Ukrainian journalists who are offended.

One reason for refusal was that all questions were known in advance. Once again, asking about Kolomoisky, offshores - it's been done. This list of questions has already been answered and is constantly repeated. It seems to me that you just need to understand that modern journalism should be more creative.

About Public TV and Russian-language TV channel

We heard from many representatives of the team - both the Office of the President and the Servant of the People that certain changes are planned in the regulation of the television and radio market. Perhaps the regulator will change, there will be another, integrated, regulating everything including Internet media. We also heard about plans to create a Russian-language channel or combine foreign-language broadcasting with Public TV.

All these plans are true. Regarding the regulation and certain legislative nuances, I think, Tymoshenko himself and the committee that will work there will be in a better position to explain in more detail.

Many of this news comes from Mykyta Poturayev, who was on Servant of the People’s party list.

Let's start with a public broadcaster. We had a meeting with the management. On our part, we guaranteed that the public broadcaster should receive exactly the funding that is prescribed in the budget. Because in reality, they received less. But specific goals will be set: for a year, two, three and five years. This is about optimization. There are huge problems concerning their bloated staffing.

There have been redundancies, but it still is.

Very much so. Overall, there is a huge intricate structure that receives considerable funding. Well, it’s impossible to give such results with those funds. This must be objectively recognized.

A public broadcaster is very important, and this, by the way, is also mentioned by both our European and American partners. And they should receive funding, but it can’t just be a structure where taxpayer funds are thrown in, and which in the end shows no specific result.

A channel’s indicators are known. It is the share (of the market) and ratings. Therefore, a reorganization plan is set. We are ready to help as much as we can, but this is an independent broadcaster, or at least it should be, logically. Yes, despite the fact that the funds come from the state budget. We are here ready to help, if necessary, but only as media experts who understand certain processes such as creating content or at least helping get some experts who could. And then, at the end of the year, a certain outcome will be achieved if each of the small tasks is performed.

Funding is provided - and a clear plan for reorganization should be presented.

That is, it’s not about giving financing, stating what the rating should be and checking at the end of the year. No. There is funding for a specific plan. We create this plan and guarantee that funding will be provided. At the end of the year, we set indicators and look further at whether those indicators were achieved. The amount of funding for the next year, for example, depends on this.

The Russian-language channel is again an idea that is very strongly supported by Americans, British and Europeans. But this is not only about the Russian-language channel.

Take broadcasting in foreign languages. These are now different entities.

The idea was: firstly, a channel that will work on foreign policy. The channel, which will be in Ukrainian and English, as well as in Russian. For example, in large tourist hotel chains. There is Russia Today, for example. We have no analogue in the good sense of the word. That is, a certain channel that will defend the interests of Ukraine, and talk about Ukraine.

Russia Today is a propaganda channel. Do we want a propaganda channel?

Propaganda can be different. There is propaganda for a healthy lifestyle. In a good sense of the word it can be propaganda of the Ukraine brand for the world. The Russian-language channel is a different thing.

Of course, there is the possibility of Internet browsing. We are talking about the temporarily occupied territories and the territory of the former CIS. We went to Stanytsia Luhanska, for example. Now, there are six radio stations there. 

That have reception there?

There are six LPR radio stations that reach there. There are just two Ukrainian ones: Army FM and Perets (“Pepper”), which, unfortunately, the local population does not listen to. We must honestly admit that in that information warfare, the active phase of which has been going on since 2014, and starting even earlier, a lot has been done so that, especially over the past five years, Ukrainian-language content is perceived, let’s say as...


You could say that. We must admit this to ourselves. At the beginning of 2014-2015 there was this type of content on the channels, in my opinion - some of it still remains today - talking about Russia, about Russian propaganda in Russian. That is, this content was for the south and east of Ukraine. It was more effective in terms of delivering the message. We must simply understand that the agenda that was proposed is irrelevant. And if we really want to communicate with them, then it should be in the Russian language.

About language quotas

We heard from the president and from the representatives of the team, including Borys Shefir, who is not in power, but is now engaged in the business of Kvartal 95, about the appropriateness of language quotas. Zelenskyy said that some provisions of the Law on Language needed to be revised - whether some changes were needed. Is the team really revising this law? If so, then by whom, how, what for and in what way does this work take place?

“Revising” is the wrong word. The correct word is “being analyzed.” Let's start with Shefir. This is his personal opinion. I think that it is possible to review, in fact, the current quota numbers.

90% of quotas.

Yes. What is the purpose? If we talk about radio, is the goal to increase the number of Ukrainian-language songs? Yes, this goal has been achieved. Indeed, there are more of them. But I personally would really not want this tool to work so that instead of having Russian pop, we had Ukrainian pop, there used to be Russian chanson, and Ukrainian filled this void.

Well, pop music is not going anywhere, it will always exist in all languages ​​and that is normal.

You can’t escape it. But in this matter, we shouldn’t substitute certain expediency under the agenda of certain slogans.

So what is the purpose of this review? Is there a market or economic feasibility of revising quotas? If quotas are revised, what problem will this solve?

Well, for example, we just talked about radio stations. Why don’t they listen to Perets FM there (in the east of Ukraine)? This is not a question for Perets FM radio station. There is a certain rejection of [Ukrainian-language content], active work was carried out and a lot of money was spent on this. Perhaps the point was rejection of the Ukrainian language and, in principle, everything Ukrainian.

People don’t listen to the radio, in fact, to hear the news. People listen to the radio because of the music. They listen to the radio, where songs are played that they like, that they understand. And between the blocks of songs there is news, for example, where they tell how residents of the "LPR" can obtain a Russian passport in the most convenient way.

Are we ready, for example, to reduce the number of quotas for radio stations that broadcast on our controlled territory? Even in our territories, people do not listen to our radio. Are we prepared to lower a certain number of quotas to increase ratings? I mean, are we ready for this? 

The issue of film production. We understand that these provisions of the law on the Ukrainian language will work, by and large, in a few years - from 2023-2024, so not for a while. There are differing opinions as to how the Ukrainian film market might react to this. From your point of view, do you need to revise anything in this law regarding the film industry?

From the point of view of content producers, if they can also sell this content to Belarus, Kazakhstan or the Baltic states ...

They probably will not be able to if it’s in Ukrainian.

If they produce it in Russian, they can.

My opinion is that in the framework of the information war, we cannot only defend ourselves. Russian-language Ukrainian content with Ukrainian views gives us the opportunity to go to those platforms and be heard.

Why can’t we be an example of democratic transformations and processes for most countries of the post-Soviet space, but also communicate certain messages in the language, which is understood in Kazakhstan or Belarus, or Russia?

We are in favor of the Ukrainian language, we will support, protect and popularize it. And we really want for Ukrainian to be fashionable. We understand that for this we need to slightly modify the tools that were in use previously.

Could Studio Kvartal 95 switch to Ukrainian? I understand that you now have no relation to this, but what do you think? Jokes in Ukrainian, TV series in Ukrainian.

Entirely and completely - no, because that is not the point. In certain things - yes, there is already a transition. I think that the Ukrainian-speaking teams of the Liga Smikhu (“League of Laughter”), and there are a lot of them, are doing a lot to popularize the Ukrainian language.

But how then to stimulate Ukrainian-language content, Ukrainian film production, book publishing?


How? What tools are appropriate in this market?

Tax cuts or even tax exemption for a certain period of time.

For Ukrainian-language product.

Perhaps for highly rated Ukrainian-language products.

You just criticized Ukrainian pop music. But what about Ukrainian arthouse? How can people make things to show at film festivals?

Nobody says that they should not have support. Of course, they should.

About relationships with churches

Your predecessor, Rostyslav Pavlenko, was also responsible for the issues related to autocephaly and Tomos. How much time and space do religious issues take in the work of your directorate?

We have a spiritual development section that deals with these issues. In general, our position is that the state should be equidistant from all faiths. It should be neutral, should not interfere in their work, it should help if necessary, and not interfere when necessary. This is our own position.

So you personally do not deal with this issue much right now? This is not one of the priorities, right?

The main priority is that the church is independent of the state. Therefore, we communicate and are open to dialogue. Even before the inauguration, Zelenskyy met with leaders of various faiths, and the result of these meetings was an appeal to the residents of Donbas and Crimea, where almost all of them united in one video.

There was no head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epiphanius.

We offered everyone to take part.

About moving from Bankova

Serhiy Trofimov, the first deputy head of the Office, says that here, on Bankova street, it is simply impossible to think and work, because these walls, this wood, this gilding crushes too much.

I completely agree with him. My office is not too swanky. I joke that Trofimov and Tymoshenko have the office of the rector, whilst I have the office of the dean.

I have a lot of daylight there, and it makes my work easier. I, unlike Trofimov, do not have windows overlooking the main square. So, I don’t hear too much when it’s noisy there. Rallies are constantly held. But they are not as intense as before, by the way. 

At first, there were more rallies?

When we just opened Bankova, there were more.

What about your moving plans? I understand that now they have stalled.

It’s a complex issue. It’s difficult because of the finances. We have not yet found the optimal model in order to not spend taxpayer funds. To spend 200 million or 300 million hryvnias ($ 7.9 million - $ 11.8 million) to move out now... But it really is very difficult for us here.

About uniting ministries

We heard from representatives of the Servant of the People that there is an idea - to unite several ministries, and create one Ministry of Humanitarian Policy, and allegedly Borodyanskyi is a candidate to head this ministry.

These are not baseless rumors. Indeed, there is such work and thoughts.

So, from your point of view, there is no need for a separate Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Youth and Sports and Ministry of Information Policy?

When we say that these ministries will be united, it does not mean that their functionality will disappear. All of the functions that they performed will remain.

By the way, this is a British model. In Britain, culture, sports, and media are united in one ministry.

This is also Singapore’s model. There is a Department of Humanitarian Policy. They have clear objectives, for example, regarding the number of citizens who must regularly attend the theater.

These are just some indicators just like the ones police have.

Or how many citizens should participate as volunteers. These tasks do not just arise out of the blue. They have certain strategies. But these are good tasks. But, they are not executed in the same way as in the analogy with the police that you brought.

And the Ministry of Information Policy - is it needed in its current state? Do you understand what it does?

All the functionality that is written in the description of the Ministry of Information Policy is needed. All the functions of protecting the information space and the information security of the country are indisputably necessary.

To us, it seems, that this work was not totally effective. However, objectively speaking, they had fairly small budgets. Certain organizations get more funding than such an important ministry.

But all the functionality must be preserved. The only thing - there need to be more people who understand, for instance, marketing.

The task of the Ministry of Information Policy is, inter alia, to convey certain messages. There were a lot of people who understand information security from a technical point of view, and not from a content point of view.

About the state’s social function

It is interesting that you are talking a lot about marketing and performance indicators. But we understand that the function of the state is largely social. It is not just focused on fulfilling certain indicators or selling a certain amount in order to earn a certain amount. There are some things that probably cannot be coupled with indicators or marketing.

Exactly. But these things, if you do them, will help you fulfill the social function among other things.

So, from your point of view, this is the libertarian approach in which the market should judge how and who works and give its own assessment of effectiveness?

In a certain way, yes. But we understand that even all the tasks and goals that we set will in fact not necessarily be fulfilled. Any business coach will tell you: you need to set the most ambitious goals for yourself. Even if you only accomplish half of them, it will be a good result. When a state body does not have a definite understanding of where it is moving, what goals it faces, then the work done is generally not effective.

There are public services, but there are also rights that the state must provide. For example, a discussion around healthcare reform. Is this a service or is it the right of all people to have medical care? And education, is it a right or is it a service?

To me, it seems that in this matter the role of the state is precisely to find the right form in order to communicate correctly. Because currently, there really is this discussion going on with absolutely polar views. 

And from your point of view, is this a right or a service? Medicine and education.

In a basic sense, this is the right of all citizens. But if we are talking about some kind of extensive package, then this should be a service.

About Zelenskyy's speeches

The next question is who helps the President write his speeches? It is obvious that some of his speeches do not stray far from the work of the comedy studio, beginning with the “Prosecutor who only ‘prosecutes’ his liver.” Do you help the President write any speeches?  

Yes, I do. We have a narrow circle of creative people. But, our chief writer is in fact the President.

So he mostly writes speeches by himself? For example, the correspondence with [Vladimir] Putin about the teleconference “We Need to Talk”?

It was a joint effort. We do not have a specific arrangement, like I come, bring three pages of text, and the president just reads it and then pronounces it. Important high-profile communications, if they are not spontaneous, are a result of discussions.

Take, for instance, the inaugural speech. There were many different opinions, including findings by the president. We also have Serhiy Shefir, who worked at Kvartal 95 Studio, and me, who also worked at Kvartal 95. Often we just discuss certain things, and then the speech is somehow formed.

About personal motivation

Yuriy, why do you need all this? My understanding is you really loved your work as a screenwriter.

Every day I ask myself this question, and we all ask it. This, by the way, was said by Zelenskyy himself.

In some ways, we are political volunteers. We all genuinely left our favorite job, we had completely different plans.

We understood that it would be very difficult, that we would undersleep, that we would work almost seven days a week. In principle, we wouldn’t earn anything, because we couldn’t do it differently. But I think that if we didn’t do it, we would have been kicking ourselves.

I have the scariest feeling every day: that I wake up and it’s 2024. So, five years have passed, and I realize that we did not manage to do anything or we did very little.

I have some ambitions, I want to do something useful for both the country and for our society. Probably, so that later there would be no regrets, so that someday we could say- we had a little involvement in this. 

/Interview by Angelina Kariakina