Zelenskiy’s Experts Explain What Working With Him Is Like
6 May, 2019

With Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s inauguration coming up, now is the perfect time to talk to people who will be advising him on such important areas as legal advice, election law, anti-corruption policies, and foreign relations. This week’s Sunday Show featured lawyer Vadym Halaychuk, anti-corruption expert Halyna Yanchenko and advisor Sviatoslav Yurash.

"Zelenskiy Has Mature Political Ideas"

According to Halaychuk, his expertise and main mission in Zelenskiy’s team lies in election law. He is not a fresh face to Zelenskiy as he has prior experience of providing legal services to Kvartal 95 production studio “for some years”. He notes that whilst the experience of working with Zelenskiy as leader of Kvartal 95 was different, despite the initial doubts Halaychuk had as to Zelenskiy assuming the role of a politician, they quickly went away due to Zelenskiy “having mature political ideas.” Halaychuk was confident that once Zelenskiy decided to enter politics he would become a success.

Zelenskiy is an excellent manager and an honest person. He has what it takes to lead.

Regarding Zelenskiy’s promise to move Presidential Administration from Bankova Street in Kyiv, Halaychuk believes the president-elect was emotional when he gave that remark, but despite that Zelenskiy will deliver on his promise in the future. Although it is more of a long-term perspective rather than something that can be done immediately.

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Halaychuk also spoke of the initial difficulty of working with a team that is “too creative and doesn’t follow the rules.” At the same time, he said that is what draws people to Zelenskiy and his team.

According to Halaychuk we are stuck with [certain] laws, but that should not deter his team from making changes. But “Zelenskiy made it clear he will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law and constitution.” Halaychuk’s team will be doing a lot of cleaning up to change the rules of the game, and the restrictions in place currently. He hopes their creativity, energy, and support will help along the way.

In response to the question what would be a negative trigger for Halaychuk, the lawyer said that "the red line for him would be if [Zelenskiy] does what his predecessors did i.e. spread his powers beyond what is defined by law."

“Joint Effort of Volunteers to Change the Society”

Halyna Yanchenko is a new member of Zelenskiy’s team. She works with around 50 experts in various spheres, although there are just two whose focus is specifically anti-corruption policies: her and Ruslan Ryaboshapka. She sees their work as “a joint effort of volunteers to change something in the society.”

What gave her hope and was a positive sign was when she suggested some amendments to Zelenskiy’s election program and they were later implemented to her surprise. She goes further to say that “most of the things she has been advocating for the past five years are on Zelenskiy’s agenda and even the program for the first ten days of presidency.”

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Her biggest worry is if the new president’s positive ideas are stalled by the parliament which is responsible for passing the laws drafted and handed over from the president. If the parliament fails to cooperate effectively with Zelenskiy, they should be held politically responsible, Yanchenko believes.

"Zelenskiy Brings Together Hearts and Minds"

Sviatoslav Yurash, whose role is more flexible and involves engaging civil society and various experts, also gives foreign policy advice. He also is a fairly recent addition to the team, joining mid-February. He claims he saw his “ideas changing the direction of thinking and policy in the campaign.” Seeing that impact motivated him because he saw “the chance to reflect his ideas in Ukraine’s policies.”

He believes Zelenskiy’s success lies in his communication with ordinary people. Because Ukrainians are used to seeing him on TV talking about issues that matter to them, it engages them and makes it easier to trust Zelenskiy as a politician too, Yurash argues. What contributed to his joining the team in the first place was the occasion when Zelenskiy met soldiers in Lviv. Yurash believes Zelenskiy made the right points about Ukraine’s border and war when speaking to them. What became a pleasant surprise to Yurash was when Zelenskiy proceeded to go and speak to other soldiers, who were protesting against him. He managed to engage them too. Thus Zelenskiy is capable of "bringing together hearts and minds, as well as experts to rule the country."

Regarding the statement Zelenskiy’s partner and oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky made about there being “a civil war in East Ukraine”, Yurash thinks it is not Zelenskiy’s job to respond to every single wrong remark done in Ukraine.

It was Zelenskiy’s own instinct to respond to the occupation of Crimea and the war [in East Ukraine] with the words that are reflective of our dire situation. We will certainly not change course in defending our country and restoring our integrity.   

The red line and trigger to leave the team for Yurash would be if the border with Russia changes.

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Yurash also believes Zelenskiy vindicated himself for not being on Maidan by “deposing people who came after the Maidan and used and abused the unique chance [to transform Ukraine].”

Speaking about the parallels drawn with Kvartal 95’s political TV series Servant of the People where Zelenskiy plays a fictional president, Yurash notes that “it’s not Season 4 we are filming. It’s a whole new engagement and level of possibilities to transform our lives and this country.” He ruled out getting cues from the TV show. Zelenskiy’s team got the fundamental mandate of trust from the people and cannot let them down.