You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

The unsung heroes of Ukraine: The bureaucratic resilience of Olha Stefanishyna (The Globe and Mail)

10.07.2022

Pulling off a massive legislative and regulatory harmonization exercise with the European Union is, on its own, an incredible feat. Yet that’s just what deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Olha Stefanishyna, along with hundreds of unsung Ukrainian technocrats both in and out of political office, has managed to pull off – all amid bombings and cruise-missile strikes.

For the first time, my current role put me into contact with Ukraine’s legal and administrative systems from the inside, and I was actually surprised that they were not as dysfunctional as analysts and activists had persuaded me in my previous diplomatic life. As the head of a problem-solving organization, I could get answers and solutions to most of the contentious cases filed with our office. Now, in wartime, this same capacity has been coupled with grit to produce bureaucratic resilience.

Like much of our staff, Ms. Stefanishyna is a lawyer in her mid-thirties with fluent English and persuasive powers. She’s part of a cohort of young, internationally minded officials who have cycled in and out of government since 2014, trying to ride and channel various waves of reform. In her case, opportunity arose when Polish President Andrzej Duda first proposed the idea of fast-tracking EU candidate status for Ukraine on Feb. 26 (only two days after Russia launched its invasion), a suggestion picked up with a gusto rarely seen in Brussels by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms. Stefanyshina’s office rolled out an advocacy campaign targeting political and media elites of the 27 member states, reinforcing the government’s messaging with outreach by civil-society activists. In this campaign, old Ukrainian electoral and policy hatchets were buried, and cross-party WhatsApp groups adjusted the Europe-wide pressure points hour by hour, reinforcing President Volodymyr Zelensky’s messaging by tailoring it to varying sensibilities.

Within government, it was all hands on deck to compile the thousands of pages of substantive answers reflecting the current state of implementation by Ukraine of the 35 chapters of the EU’s internal rule book. This process, which would normally take months under peacetime conditions, was completed within weeks by ministries and governance projects who all drafted, edited and compiled the work remotely. All this outward and inward networking, in turn, would not have been possible if Ukraine’s digital backbone had not been preserved by local IT talent and dedicated system operators – with a dollop of Starlink satellite magic from Elon Musk.

The outcome: a unanimous decision by all 27 EU leaders on June 23 to launch Ukraine on the road to membership – a prospect that was the original catalyst for the first Euromaidan demonstrations back in November, 2013, and the antithesis of every one of Vladimir Putin’s imperialist plans for Ukraine and Ukrainians.

Read the publication at the Globe and Mail website here.