Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. It’s being updated with more information about the new ministers.
On March 4, the Ukrainian government underwent a major reshuffle. Oleksiy Honcharuk left the post of prime minister after just seven months on the job and was replaced with Denys Shmygal. Most of the other ministers were also replaced.
President Volodymyr Zelensky initiated the change after weeks of saying that he was dissatisfied with the state of the economy and the Cabinet’s achievements. The parliament voted for the new prime minister.
Out of 17 ministers in Honcharuk’s Cabinet, just six stayed on with Shmygal: Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Justice Minister Denys Malyuska, Minister for Euro-Integration Vadym Prystaiko (formerly, the foreign minister), Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (former Minister for Euro-Integration), Infrastructure Minister Vadym Krykliy and Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.
Four ministries were temporarily left without a leader: the Energy Ministry, Education Ministry, Economy Ministry, and Culture Ministry.
Here’s the new Cabinet of Ministers:
Predecessor: Oleksiy Honcharuk
BACKGROUND: Shmygal is relatively unknown to the wider public. He used to lead the economic department of the Lviv Oblast government and unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 2014 as an independent candidate.
In 2017-2019, he worked in the top management of DTEK, an energy company belonging to Ukraine’s richest oligarch. In the past, former employees of DTEK have gone on to serve as proxies for Akhmetov in government and politics. That said, according to Shmygal, he was chosen through an open tender procedure and didn’t have any substantial ties with Akhmetov during his work for DTEK.
He left DTEK in 2019 to become the governor of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. In early February, he was appointed deputy prime minister.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Shmygal is more experienced than Honcharuk, having worked as a mid-level official in local government for over five years. Similarly, Shmygal has a substantial economic background. The president has emphasized that the government must improve the country’s industrial output and increase budget revenue.
Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration
Predecessor: Dmytro Kuleba
BACKGROUND: Vadym Prystaiko began his diplomatic career in the mid-1990s. He was part of Ukraine’s diplomatic missions to Australia, the U.S. and Canada. In 2012, Prystaiko was appointed Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada. Two years later, he was appointed deputy foreign minister.
In 2017, Prystaiko was appointed head of Ukraine’s mission to NATO. On Aug. 29, he became Ukraine’s foreign minister in the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk.
As foreign minister, Prystaiko took part in the Normandy Format meeting between the leader of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia in Paris on Dec. 9. However, Prystaiko was overshadowed by Andriy Yermak, then Zelensky’s foreign policy aide, who used backchannel negotiations to help organize two prisoner swaps, one with Russia in September and another with Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine in December.
“I give President Zelensky the traditional diplomatic approach. Andriy Yermak represents an unconventional approach to foreign policy,” said Prystaiko, on Feb. 29, during an interview with the Ukraine 24 channel.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Prystaiko doesn’t have substantial shortcomings as foreign minister. But after Yermak was appointed Zelensky’s chief of staff, Ukrainian media reported that Prystaiko might lose his job. Being appointed Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, changes the role of Prystaiko in the new government.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Predecessor: Vadym Prystaiko
BACKGROUND: Dmytro Kuleba is a career diplomat. After finishing the Kyiv Institute of International Relations in 2005, he began his work in the foreign ministry. In 2014, he was chosen to lead the foreign ministry’s strategic communications department. Two years later, he was appointed Ukraine’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe.
On Aug. 29, Kuleba was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of synchronizing Ukraine’s government policies with those of the European Union. Kuleba is one of the six ministers who kept their jobs after Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk resigned on March 4.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Kuleba’s predecessor was reported to have a conflict with Andriy Yermak, the president’s chief of staff, who led backchannel negotiations with Russian, American and European diplomats that overshadowed the work of the Foreign Ministry. Kuleba is expected to not interfere with Yermak’s foreign agenda.
Predecessor: Andriy Zagorodnyuk
Background: New Defense Minister Andriy Taran is a retired military official and diplomat.
He started his career in the Soviet Army as far back as 1972 and acquired top military education. In independent Ukraine, he continued his service at the Defense Ministry and later in military intelligence.
In 1995-1996, he studied strategic resources management at the National Defense University in Washington D.C. and served as a defense attache with Ukraine’s Embassy in the United States until 2004. Between 2011 and 2014, Taran was a Defense Ministry representative at Ukraine’s mission to the United Nations.
Following the outbreak of Russia’s war in Donbas, Taran was appointed a Ukrainian envoy to the Joint Coordination and Control Center, a cross-front line liaison body, and was involved in negotiations with Russian military representatives in the war zone. Later, he also served three months as Ukraine’s envoy for security issues in the Minsk peace negotiations in 2015.
In 2016, Taran retired from military service with the rank of Lieutenant General. He was decorated with the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky 2nd and 3rd Class for his service.
During the 2019 presidential race in Ukraine, Taran led the campaign office of candidate Ihor Smeshko, a former SBU security service chief.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? The appointment of Andriy Taran represents the return of an established member of the old military establishment to the top position in the Defense Ministry.
He replaces Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a civilian outsider with a strong background in business, rather than military affairs. Zagorodnyuk’s appointment was seen as a huge step toward Western-style civilian oversight of resource management and policymaking in the military, a principle enshrined in Ukraine’s new national security legislation.
Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers
Predecessor: Dmytro Dubilet
BACKGROUND: Nemchynov’s biography is a mix of jobs in public service, the construction sector and university teaching. He spent most of his career in his native Lviv city before joining the State Border Guard Service in 2014 after the start of the war in the Donbas. In 2016, he served in the war zone and later worked at the Donetsk civil-military administration.
Since April 2017, Nemchynov has worked as the state secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which was merged with the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy in Honcharuk’s government.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Nemchynov’s new position is more of an administrative than a political job. As the state secretary, Nemchynov’s task was to keep the ministry organized and running. In his new position as the Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, he will be in charge of the secretarial and administrative work. His tasks include organizing the work of the Сabinet and Prime Minister, as well as liaisoning between the central government and various agencies, the presidential administration, the parliament, regional administrations and citizens.
Minister of Infrastructure
Predecessor: He kept the position.
BACKGROUND: Krykliy survived the government reshuffle like his former boss, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Prior to becoming Avakov’s adviser in 2014, Krykliy worked in banks and ran IT startups. In 2015, he took charge of the Interior Ministry’s network of service centers that issue driver’s licenses and register vehicles, among other administrative services.
His journey into politics was quick. In late 2018, he joined a new political movement called “People are Important,” which also included future Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk. According Krykliy, after Honcharuk joined President Volodymyr Zelensky’s team, he recommended Krykliy to the Servant of the People party, which was looking for candidates for parliament. In July 2019, he was elected to parliament on the Servant of the People party ticket, but didn’t serve a day as a lawmaker due to his appointment as Minister of Infrastructure in Honcharuk’s government.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Krykliy will continue the reforms of the state railways company Ukrzaliznytsia, following the dismissal of the company’s CEO and the outsourcing of operational management to the German railway authority, Deutsche Bahn. One of the most awaited decisions of the ministry is allowing privately-owned locomotives onto state rail tracks.
Among his other priorities for 2020, Krykliy has named signing concession deals for the Olivia and Kherson ports, developing river transport, building new roads and opening a McDonalds at the Kyiv Boryspil airport.
Minister for Veteran Affairs
Predecessor: Oksana Kolyada
Up until the day of his appointment to the new government, Serhiy Bessarab served as deputy chief in the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces with the rank of lieutenant general.
He has been a career military officer since 1977, and, before 1991, he served in a wide variety of positions all across the Soviet Union. He continued serving independent Ukraine in high-level command and control structures of the Armed Forces.
General Bessarab was promoted to deputy leader of the Ground Forces branch in 2012. In 2015, he took charge of Ukraine’s 40,000-person military contingent fighting Russian-backed militants in the Donba war zone.
A number of scandals erupted during his term in the Donbas. In May 2016, Vitaliy Deynega, the coordinator of the Come Back Alive civilian charity, which helps the military, directly accused Bessarab of preventing Ukrainian troops from returning artillery fire against the enemy in the combat area near the city of Avdiyivka.
Deynega also decried Bessarab as an incompetent commander whose leadership resulted in numerous Ukrainian casualties in the Donbas and called for his dismissal as top war zone general.
The Ukrainian military command denounced all of the activist’s accusations.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Given his history of conflicts with civilian volunteer community, General Bessarab has a checkered reputation among many of Ukraine’s military service members, especially in fighting units.
Like newly appointed Defense Minister Andriy Taran, he is a long-standing member of old general class associated with post-Soviet stagnancy rather than the Western-oriented reforms Ukraine is supposed to be moving toward.
This could become a problem for numerous retired combat veterans selected to serve in the ministry who advocate brand new concepts of veteran care in Ukraine instead of the old, overly bureaucratic Soviet-style system of providing insignificant, low-quality benefits and services.
Predecessor: Oksana Markarova
BACKGROUND: Umansky has been a government official since 1998. He was an official under ex-President Leonid Kuchma and was the first deputy finance minister and acting finance minister under ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Umansky was also a deputy of Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko in 2014-2015. He resigned after expressing disagreement with his boss’s policies.
In 2018, the next finance minister, Oleksandr Danylyuk, accused lawmaker Igor Kononenko, then President Petro Poroshenko’s top ally, of trying to impose Umansky as a deputy finance minister. Kononenko, who denies the accusations of wrongdoing, has been investigated in several corruption cases.
Umansky was an advisor to Poroshenko in 2016-2019.
He also used to be a member of the board of directors at Gase Energy Ltd., a firm that was investigated in the U.S. for alleged corruption and money laundering.
Oleksandra Ustinova, a lawmaker from the Golos party, said in the Rada on March 4 that Umansky had been implicated in a scandal linked to Oleksandr Yanukovych, the son of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Specifically, in 2015 Umansky, as a deputy finance minister, authorized a Hr 79 million payment to Ukrprofmed, a construction firm linked to Oleksandr Yanukovych, she added.
Umansky did not respond to a request for comment.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said that Umansky’s appointment could have a negative impact on Ukraine’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund since his position on cooperation with the lender is unclear.
Political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko was more upbeat on Umansky’s appointment, arguing that he was chosen for being an experienced technocrat who had proven useful to many previous governments.
Predecessor: He kept his position.
BACKGROUND: Avakov, who took office in February 2014, is Ukraine’s longest-serving interior minister ever. Ukraine’s civil society has called for his dismissal ever since 2014 due to his dubious reputation.
Avakov’s allies and son have been charged with corruption, and video footage of the Security Service of Ukraine implicates both him and his associates in graft, although they deny the corruption accusations.
Avakov has also been accused of sabotaging police reform and derailing high-profile investigations, which he also denies.
The Advocacy Advisory Panel, a group of lawyers for EuroMaidan Revolution protesters, and the father of murdered whistleblower Kateryna Gandziuk on March 4 urged the Rada not to appoint Avakov. Kateryna Gandziuk died in a hospital on Nov. 4, 2018 from injuries suffered in a politically-motivated acid attack.
“Impunity, a lack of trust, failed reforms and sabotage of the EuroMaidan investigations characterize Avakov’s stint in office,” the Advocacy Advisory Panel said.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Avakov’s re-appointment is arguably the most controversial one. Avakov’s disapproval rating is 73 percent.
Anti-Avakov protesters have mocked Zelensky for keeping the odious minister. On Feb. 22, one of them held a placard reading “Zelensky is a temporary president in Avakov’s Cabinet” — a reference to Zelensky’s claim that Avakov was a temporary minister in his Cabinet.
However, Zelensky apparently believes he needs Avakov to “maintain stability,” political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.
Anti-corruption activists argue that Avakov could help Zelensky to crack down on protests against his rule. Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, argued in a March 4 op-ed that “Avakov’s law enforcers may come in handy” if Zelensky does or proposes something controversial — for example, if he turns away from the West and starts drifting towards Russia’s orbit.
Minister of Youth and Sports
Predecessor: New ministry (formerly part of the Culture Ministry).
BACKGROUND: Vadym Gutzeit is a 1992 Olympic Games gold medalist in team sabre. He represented Ukraine during the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. He later officiated fencing competitions, and coached Ukraine’s men’s fencing team, which won Olympic gold in 2008.
In 2018, Gutzeit was appointed head of the Kyiv City Administration’s youth and sports department.
In 2019, Gutzeit ran for parliament on the ticket of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, but was dropped after it was revealed that he had business interests in Russia. Five years after Russia occupied Crimea and started its war in eastern Ukraine, Gutzeit was revealed to be the co-owner of a car repair business near Moscow.
“You forgot that you kicked Gutzeit out (of your party) during the parliamentary elections, because he was tainted,” said lawmaker Oleksandra Ustinova, from the 20-member Voice party, criticizing Gutzeit’s candidacy for the new Cabinet in parliament on March 4.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Gutzeit might have been selected by Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s recently appointed chief of staff. Between 2006 and 2014, Gutzeit was an aide to pro-Russian lawmaker Elbrus Tedeyev. His other aide was Yermak.
Several journalistic investigations alleged that Gutzeit was abusing his office during his time in the Kyiv City Administration.
Predecessor: Zoryana Skaletska
BACKGROUND: Russia-born Illia Yemets graduated from the Kyiv Medical University. A cardiac surgeon, he worked in the hospitals of Australia, Canada and France during his career.
Yemets is known as a pioneer in carrying out some of the most complicated cardiac surgeries on newborns in countries of the former Soviet Union. He is a recipient of a number of state awards and the author of hundreds of scientific publications focused on heart surgery and the treatment of heart disease.
In 2003, Yemets founded and chaired the Ukrainian Children’s Cardiac Center.
Yemets can hardly be called a new face in the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers. He used to chair the Ministry of Health back in 2010 during the Viktor Yanukovych era. Yemets’ life as a minister was short — just five months. He did not manage to achieve much, experts say.
Yemets has little understanding of medical reform, despite being a qualified professional and a talented surgeon, experts believe.
Olga Stefanyshyna, a former Health Ministry staff member and now a lawmaker, said: “It is a mistake to appoint a person who already served in the office and did not show much in the way of results.”
“I have no issues with Yemets as a doctor, but have quite a few questions about his wealth. His e-declaration is immodest for a person who worked in state hospitals for years,” Oleksandra Ustinova, an anti-corruption activist with knowledge of the health sector and a lawmaker, told the Kyiv Post.
Yemets’ family properties total 865 square meters, according to the e-declarations he filed. His wife is co-owner of a company that sells wine and of a private medical center. She also owns a land plot and a 300-square-meter house in Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014, where she used to be the beneficiary of another company currently in a process of liquidation. She drives a Porsche Macan, the price of which starts from $50,950. In 2012, Yemets ran for parliament with Ukraine Ahead, the political party of Natalia Korolevska, a politician known for her pro-Russian positions. She is currently a lawmaker with the Russia-friendly Opposition Platform — For Life party.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Experts fear that the second round of the medical reform, set to launch on April 1, may be sabotaged. The appointment of a surgeon who is not an expert in health care management may “kill the reform,” experts say. Yemets lacks knowledge of how the reform is designed and how to implement it. According to the experts, it will require months for Yemets to adjust to his new role.
Social Policy Minister
Predecessor: Yulia Sokolovska
BACKGROUND: Maryna Lazebna has a degree in economic management. Two years after graduating, in 2000, Lazebna got a position in the Economy Ministry of Ukraine, where she specialized in social forecasts and reforms. She was soon promoted to become a deputy head of the department for pension reform and Euro-integration.
She had already worked in the Ministry of Social Policy as director of the Department of Labor and Employment, before she accepted another position from then-President Viktor Yanukovych. In 2013, Yanukovych appointed Lazebna to become head of the State Employment Service of Ukraine. Soon after the EuroMaidan Revolution that forced Yanukovych from power, the new Prime Minister dissolved the institution Lazebna chaired.
She then held several other positions within Ukrainian ministries before she was given a post in the Ministry of Social Policy, which she now leads.
In August 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers appointed Lazebna as a Head of the State Social Service of Ukraine. She was dismissed two months later in October.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN? While not much is known about Lazebna, the fact that she accepted a promotion from Yanukovych and worked in his government has raised concerns.
Minister for Reintegration of the Occupied Territories
Predecessor: New ministry (used to be part of the Veterans Affairs Ministry).
BACKGROUND: Oleksiy Reznikov is one of Ukraine’s best-known lawyers. In the 1990s and 2000s, he had a private practice in Kyiv and Lviv focusing on settling disputes in courts, mediation, and the legal vetting of contracts.
Reznikov had a number of sensational cases. In particular, during the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005, he successfully represented presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in Supreme Court hearings regarding the second tour of the 2004 presidential elections, which was eventually ruled invalid.
In 2008, he was also elected a Kyiv city councilor, and, in May 2014, he started serving as an aide and adviser to Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.
He joined the negotiations over Donbas in May 2019, when Zelensky appointed him one of Ukraine’s envoys to the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. Reznikov took charge of the political component of talks with the Kremlin.
Reznikov has been known to be a candidate for his new position since at least Feb. 10, when then-Prime Minister Honcharuk confirmed that the issue of the occupied territories in Donbas and Crimea would be removed from the purview of the Ministry for Veterans Affairs and that he had recommended Reznikov for the restored Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Territories.
In Minsk, Reznikov gained a reputation as a strong supporter of Zelensky’s approach to a peace settlement in the Donbas under the Minsk agreements — which was probably a major argument in favor of his appointment.
On Jan. 23, he particularly asserted that local elections in the occupied Donbas were possible solely and exclusively after the disarmament and withdrawal of all militant formation and Russian regular troops from Donbas, as well as after Ukraine regains the full control of its border with Russia in Donbas.
Deputy Prime Minister Minister for Digital Transformation
Predecessor: He kept his position.
BACKGROUND: Zaporizhia native Fedorov joined the campaign office of then-candidate Volodymyr Zelensky and directed his successful social media campaign. After Zelensky came to power, Fedorov was elected to parliament on his party list and later appointed as Minister for Digital Transformation, a new role in Honcharuk’s government.
Fedorov’s main project is building an electronic government that would allow Ukrainians to use electronic ID, receive public services through the internet, access state registers and even vote electronically. This year, his ministry rolled out Diya, a digital literacy platform and a namesake mobile application for public services.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Digitalization is a niche area, and Fedorov is the first minister to lead it. He hasn’t seen any public criticism from Zelensky.
Predecessor: Malyuska keeps his position.
BACKGROUND: Denys Malyuska is a Ukrainian lawyer, who was appointed justice minister on Aug. 29. He is one of the six ministers who were able to keep their job after the former government was sacked by parliament on March 4.
Prior to being appointed to the government, Malyuska worked as a private lawyer. In 2010, he became a private consultant for the World Bank Group, focusing on Ukraine and Central Asian countries. Later, Malyuska was appointed head of the European Union-sponsored Better Regulation Delivery Office think tank, where he met former Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and a number of former ministers.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Malyuska is one of the few ministers who kept their job, after Zelensky publicly called for the government’s dismissal. He was never publicly criticized by the president.
Minister for Development of Local Communities
Predecessor: Denys Shmygal
BACKGROUND: Before his appointment as minister, Chernyshov led Kyiv Oblast.
A Kharkiv native and lawyer, he previously worked in the IT industry and real estate development.
From 2008 to 2013, Chernyshov chaired the supervisory board of AVEC, a company whose portfolio includes commercial real estate and media businesses. He has also founded several investment and development companies and supportered civic initiatives in Ukraine.
In October 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers appointed Chernyshov governor of Kyiv Oblast.
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