UkraineAlert

The United States invented many things, but anti-trust laws and competition policy was arguably the most profound. These laws establish fair rules for the marketplace, and are why the country became the richest and most powerful on the planet. Without these, the United States would look like Russia or Ukraine: An impoverished populace and a moribund economy and political system owned by a few dozen oligarchs.

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“Some of the greatest Ukrainian patriots aren’t even Ukrainian,” the eminently quotable public intellectual Yevhen Hlibovotsky is fond of saying.

While he didn’t have John Sung Kim in mind, he might have. Kim, forty-five, is a wealthy Korean-American entrepreneur who built and sold two companies (one IPO, one all cash sale) in Silicon Valley before moving to Kyiv in 2016. He’s also an evangelist for Ukraine’s tech scene.

Kim is dead set on changing Ukraine by teaching engineers and entrepreneurs how to attract venture capital and build world-class startups. But that’s not all. He also wants to change the country’s mentality, from the short-term time horizons he sees everywhere to longer, big-picture thinking. When he can convince top talent to take a lower salary combined with equity in a company instead of just more cash, that will be a game changer for the country, he says.

There’s no shortage of raw talent in Ukraine. “The top 3 percent of talent in Ukraine is world-class,” Kim says over coffee in Kyiv. He says the country’s top engineers are good enough to work at Google and Facebook, and the second layer is outstanding, but with one caveat: “They lack soft skills.”

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June has been challenging month to keep up with Ukraine’s vibrant politics. Numerous new political parties—Servant of the People, Holos, Might and Honor, Ukrainian Strategy, and others—held party conventions and presented their candidates and programs for snap parliamentary elections slated for July 21.

Let’s take a look at the three most important newcomers to the race.

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“I obviously mistook the dress code,” confessed Viacheslav Klymov standing tieless onstage where Ukraine’s president sat clad in his Sunday-best in Kyiv, Ukraine, on June 20. The newly-elected president replied to the head of the Union of Ukrainian Entrepreneurs not to fret and instantly removed his own tie in front of the audience of seven hundred business leaders. As the president next welcomed me on stage, I inquired whether I should also detach my neckwear. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy teasingly replied: “It’s OK. Your tie is green.”  

Zeleny in Ukrainian means green. It was the color of the extremely successful election campaign that brought the new president to power one month ago with a whopping 73 percent of the vote.

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On June 19, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) charged four suspects of murder for their role in shooting down a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Amid the geopolitics, rhetoric, and finger pointing yesterday, the most poignant words came from Silene Fredriksz, who lost her son Bryce in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

“We all get older... I hope that I will know the truth before I close my eyes,” Fredriksz said. Some relatives have died not knowing the truth, she said.

Like all of the relatives I have had the privilege of meeting over the years, they want justice, and to find out what happened and why.

Sadly, that may not be coming any time soon. Even though JIT has come up with enough solid evidence to formally charge four suspects—three Russian and one Ukrainian nationals—Russia has already signaled that it will ignore the findings.

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy became Ukraine’s sixth president on May 20. The political neophyte’s election raised a host of questions about lack of governing experience, connections to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the composition of his inner circle, and his priorities once in office. One month into Zelenskyy’s presidency, those questions still require answers, and we have yet to see much in the way of policies as the political focus has turned to the parliamentary elections. However, his pronouncements largely have been reassuring. The US government appears cautiously optimistic and has invited him to visit Washington.

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HBO and Sky UK’s “Chernobyl” is a tour de force. The mini-series should be required viewing by every leader and parliamentarian in Europe, especially in Germany.

It depicts the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986, an example of Moscow’s technological incompetence, disregard for human life, and political treachery. Instead of evacuating a vast area around the initial explosion and fire, the Russians cut off phone communication to the nearby village of 132,000 and dispatched 6,000 troops to keep residents there.

Most people don’t realize that a European apocalypse was only averted because two scientists realized that water beneath the burning core had to be drained to prevent a thermal explosion that would have blown up the other three reactors. Three Ukrainian workers volunteered to open up the sluices, and prevented a detonation, and discharge of radiation, that would have wiped out half of Europe, rendering it uninhabitable for thousands of years.

Deaths and cancer rates among Ukrainians since have been dramatic but unquantified, and an area of 4,000 square kilometers, almost double the size of Luxembourg, remains a no-go zone.

Now, thirty-three years later, Russia remains an existential threat to Europe and Ukraine is its biggest victim once more. This is a fitting backdrop to the summit in Berlin, on June 18, between Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The new leader was born in Kryvyi-Rih, only 550 kilometers from Chernobyl, and was eight years old when the meltdown occurred.

Sadly, Russia continues to murder Ukrainians in the east, five years after it seized and occupied seven percent of the country, and intends to bypass, and further cripple Ukraine, with its proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany.

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It’s no secret that the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has failed to be transformed in the post-Maidan period. But who is to blame?

A high-level diplomat representing a G-7 country recently lamented that Ukraine’s major western partners deserve a large share of the blame for not providing direct assistance to the office.

“You don’t know how many times I was asked for help,” the individual said lamenting. “We didn’t do it because we felt it would be an expression of a form of ‘colonialism.’ Sad and unfortunate because both time and a historic opportunity was lost.”

This ideological assumption is farcical.

Partnerships were established in joint military cooperation, in finance reform, and economic development. What then prevents the establishment of a relationship in rebuilding the Prosecutor General’s Office?

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election over incumbent Petro Poroshenko has spawned intense speculation. The most intriguing is the assertion that we are witnessing the long-awaited emergence of a “new” Ukraine that is no longer divided along overlapping regional, ethnic, and linguistic fault lines because Zelenskyy won in all of the country’s oblasts except one.

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It would be unfair to expect Ukraine’s novice president to take over the reins of Europe’s largest country seamlessly. However, knowing how to spell his own name in English would seem a more realistic expectation. This did not appear to be the case during the first days of his administration, or at least that was the impression created by the range of different spellings used in various government communiques and official social media accounts. This sparked a lively debate among English-language journalists and commentators covering Ukraine, with some favoring the succinct “Zelensky,” while others argued the case for the more puritan “Zelenskyi” (For the record, this author championed “Zelenskiy,” which is how the Atlantic Council has rendered his name until now). Clarity came suddenly in late May, when the presidential administration confounded everyone by adopting the previously unfancied “Zelenskyy” as the official English-language spelling of the new president’s name.

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