Those who go abroad should return home

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Aug. 25, 2011, 10:20 p.m. | Op-ed — by Bohdan A. Oryshkevich

Bohdan A. Oryshkevych

I have been reading the recent Kyiv Post series, "Ukrainian Voices From Abroad," with some interest. I have been reading the recent Kyiv Post series, “Ukrainian Voices From Abroad,” with some interest. All the profiles seem to have the same message. As an ordinary person, one has more opportunities abroad so almost everyone should leave Ukraine.

I would agree that Ukraine is not doing well and that a corrupt country run for the benefit of its newly moneyed elite is driving out hundreds of thousands if not multiple millions of its citizens to live abroad.

One could publish hundreds of thousands of such stories and we would not be more informed, know more or understand more about Ukraine.

More importantly, we would not be solving any of its problems. Not one of the people profiled in the series has shown himself to be a genuine observer of the big picture let alone of his own life. Not one is likely to make a contribution to Ukraine other than to send money back to poorer relatives back home.

There are many other kinds of people who have gone abroad. There are people who have gone away to study and bring back their newfound expertise and insights to Ukraine.

There are people who have gone to perform abroad and represent Ukraine. There are others who have gone to explore the world and bring some of that back to Ukraine.

Not surprisingly, there are even women who go abroad to get an education and not just to get married.

There are even Ukrainians who have gone abroad to become writers in their adopted countries. One, in America, has actually won a MacArthur “genius” grant.

He has written often for the New Yorker, a leading leading literary magazine. Another, an assistant professor at Columbia University, has worked on and been cited for Nobel Prize winning biomedical research.

We in the USA/USA Program have a student this year that has been accepted to Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

He has the talent and the character to become the president of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the Finance Ministry of Ukraine.
An education abroad should not be part of an exit strategy.

Two of the more promising young economics professors at Princeton University are from Ukraine.

One even did part of his higher education at home. I am certain that they would be willing to advise Ukraine or its businesses in economic matters.

A woman cinematographer won a full grant to attend New York University Film School, then a Cannes Film Festival residency fellowship in Paris to write a full-length film script, and will begin shooting her first US-Ukrainian full length movie production next year.

One of our USA/USA Program alumnae has won the same Tech Review Thirty Five under Thirty Five award in computer science as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has.

She is a tenured professor at Brown University, funded by a Sloan Fellowship and has been invited to lecture throughout the Ivy League. She attended School NO. 57 in Kyiv. Yet, no one has invited her back to Ukraine to lecture.

No one has written about Kirill Dmitriev from Kyiv who went to community college in California thanks to an American host family; then went on to Stanford, McKinsey, Harvard Business School, IBS, Delta Capital in Moscow, founded and returned to Ukraine.

Successive presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych squandered his presence in Ukraine. His increasing frustration on the Savik Shuster talk show was painful to watch.

He began looking for opportunities elsewhere. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation has recently named Dmitriev to found and head the Russia Direct Investment Fund.

This fund will comprise at least $50 billion of international investment tied to Russian government seed money.

It has, as its ambition, nothing less than the modernization of the Russian Federation, something that Dmitriev advocated for Ukraine numerous times on Ukrainian television! Ukraine’s inattention to this talented individual has led to Russia’s gain.

There are others like Kirill who have yet to return.

A lighter moment among students at the USA/USA seminar in 2009. The US-based program helps talented students from Ukraine earn full four-year college scholarships. (http://on.fb.met/jiWGAg.)

There are even cadres of talented Ukrainian bankers in London, New York, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

There are others who are persisting often against the odds within Ukraine.

Ukraine needs more such educated people. It needs to educate even more such people. It needs an active effort to re-engage those who are lost.

There are Harvard-trained political scientists who could write about events and policies in Ukraine if only they were invited to do so.

Interest and respect for this talent could not only enhance its prestige in Ukraine, but even make it even more interested and relevant to Ukraine.

Not least of all, our program has created a veritable brain trust for Ukraine. We have other talented students and alumni of Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Penn/Wharton, Dartmouth, Brown and elsewhere whose knowledge and expertise, if respected and tapped, might just make Ukraine a viable country.

Ukraine (I include the Kyiv Post in that) must respect its talent. Value it or lose it. It must also respect the transformative power of education abroad.

So, please think of writing something more enlightening and helpful that could actually make Ukrainians aspire to achieve rather than to emigrate for menial but regularly paying jobs abroad.

Ukraine as, perhaps, the most insular country in Europe, has no choice but to learn from abroad. How else will it modernize its industries, update its science, and bring genuine democracy and civil society back home?

By creating the impression that education abroad functions only as an exit strategy for average people does a great disservice to the future of Ukraine and of its citizens; the vast majority of whom cannot or will not emigrate.

The Kyiv Post should nurture a better vision for Ukraine. As an American-founded newspaper, it should understand that America was built by people who brought their dreams with them from abroad.

Talented people can bring their dreams back to Ukraine. We should help them to do so. Good ideas can take root anywhere.

Bohdan A. Oryshkevich is the co-founder of the USA/USA Program found at and on Facebook at
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