Ukrainian deputy defence minister: dignity comes from knowledge

Andriy Shevchenko, a John Smith Fellow, has been appointed deputy defence minister of Ukraine, a role through which he will contribute to the defence of his nation against the Russian invasion.

This week Andriy took the opportunity during his first visit to the UK since his new appointment to attend the John Smith Trust’s Ideas Exchange in Oxford. Fellows from across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia met for a few days to discuss the ongoing crises in global security and development, and to explore what the new geopolitical context means for governance and leadership in the region. Following the Ideas Exchange, Andriy met with key staff at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Andriy’s appointment comes as part of the Ukrainian government’s efforts to tackle corruption. Andriy served as Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada from 2015 to 2021 and as a Member of Parliament from 2006 to 2012. He has also had a successful career in journalism, working for Ukrainian and international media, and campaigning on issues such as censorship and press freedom.

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Andriy wanted to use his media expertise to support his country. He was among a group of media professionals who founded the Media Center Ukraine to enable communication between journalists and the Ukrainian government, military leadership and civil society. This has developed into Ukraine’s main media communication platform during the war.

Space for communication

“The idea was to help foreign journalists who come to cover the war in Ukraine,” explains Andriy. “It was about creating some physical space where communication could happen.

“It is a place where people from the government and from the military can come, and where journalists can feel relatively safe, with some basic conditions for their very important work.”

According to Andriy, the war and accompanying Russian disinformation has thrown the role of the media into sharp focus. He says: “I think now we understand much more about how Russian disinformation works. And we understand how important it is to make sure that our societies and our nations keep a healthy media environment.”

At the heart of this is providing people with accurate and up-to-date information. “Courage and resilience come from dignity, and dignity comes from knowledge,” he says. “I think it’s one of the very important lessons that I have learned from this experience.”

six people sit around a table, there is paper on the table, they are in a discussion
Andriy Shevchenko and other John Smith Fellows during Oxford Ideas Exchange, March 2023

John Smith Fellows in Ukraine

At the time of his fellowship in 2013, Andriy’s action plan focused on the passage of the Peaceful Assemblies Act, a law to ensure the right to free, peaceful protest in Ukraine. He is among a network of 66 Fellows in Ukraine, a network he values highly. “It’s a very vibrant community,” he says. “You see John Smith Fellows all over the place in the parliament, in many agencies, in the government, in civil society, in the business community.

“When there is a dramatic moment of life for our country, you will see those people not as someone who stands by, who stands aside. You will see them in the middle of all the changes, in the middle of the fight.”

This network proved to be valuable when Andriy was working to set up the Media Center Ukraine. He says: “We crossed paths with a lot of John Smith Fellows through this work because they work in the government and in the military. Some of them are in the armed forces.

“These contacts provide ongoing opportunities to make sure the media get the information they need, and our armed forces and government have a chance to speak out and reach out to the world.”

Passion to change the world

For Andriy, one of the benefits of a John Smith Trust fellowship has been meeting like-minded people from many different walks of life. He says: “It’s an extraordinary network of changemakers. There is so much connection, energy and passion travelling through this network, it’s fantastic.

“It will be your lifetime experience. If you have enough curiosity, if you have enough passion about what you do and what you plan to do in the future – if you are serious about changing the world and making it a better place, this programme is for you.”

Find out about our fellowship programmes.

Photo of Andriy Shevchenko by Sarah Oughton.