Ambassador Shevchenko leaves huge shoes to fill

Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the UCC and Andriy Shevchenko

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

October 31 marked Andriy Shevchenko’s last day as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada. He has now returned to Ukraine. While a replacement has been chosen, that person’s name has not yet been officially announced. Whoever it is will have some very big shoes to fill – and we don’t mean that just because of Andriy’s imposing stature.

The normal term for an Ambassador of Ukraine is four years. Shevchenko served for six – that is longer than any previous Ambassador of Ukraine to Canada, or any Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, for that matter. That in itself is a testament to how much his work has been appreciated, not only by the Ukrainian community here, but also by two Presidents. What is also unusual is that he did not have a diplomatic background prior to his appointment. He was a journalist and a politician. (Which caused some resentment among seasoned diplomats.) Even more so, as a politician, he belonged to a party which was led by then-President Petro Poroshenko’s arch rival – Yulia Tymoshenko. In fact, had he not been appointed Ambassador, he would have filled the next parliamentary vacancy allotted to the Batkivshchyna Party under the proportional voting system. He not only served Poroshenko loyally, but also his rival and successor Volodymyr Zelenskyy who especially relied on his advice on how to deal with Canada’s Ukrainian diaspora – the largest in the Free World and one that has become so influential in advocating for Ukraine’s national interests that it prompted rantings and ravings from the Russian Federation’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov, who referred to us as “rabid”.

Not only did Shevchenko establish excellent rapport with the Ukrainian community in Canada, but also with Canadian parliamentarians, government officials and the media. His background in journalism and fluency in English allowed him to deal comfortably with Canadian media who often turned to him to explain Ukraine’s position on any number of issues. This was quite significant as it came at a time when Canada’s “Special Relationship” with Ukraine became so critical.

Shevchenko assumed the Ambassadorship on September 24, 2015. Ukraine was already at war with Russia. Stephen Harper was still Prime Minister of Canada and his Government had already initiated Operation Unifier by which Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel began to train Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel in modern fighting techniques to help withstand Russian aggression. Six years earlier they had also begun negotiations for the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA). But within a month the Harper Government lost an election and the Liberals under Justin Trudeau took over. CUFTA was finalized two years later under the stewardship of Canada’s then-Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, herself of Ukrainian origin and always conscious of Ukraine’s needs. She was to later become Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. It was a most auspicious time to serve as Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada and Shevchenko fulfilled that role admirably doing much to cement that “Special Relationship”.

Born in 1976 in the town of Hvizdets, near Kolomyia, Shevchenko spent his youth in Fastiv, near Kyiv. In 1999, he received his master’s degree from the Institute of Journalism at Kyiv University; he also studied political science and economics at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. According to his official biography on the Embassy of Ukraine to Canada’s website:

“At the beginning of his media career in the 1990s, Mr. Shevchenko worked as a Kyiv-based correspondent for the Edmonton-based newspaper ‘The Ukrainian News’. A seasoned journalist, he was one of the founders of Ukrainian 5th Channel, the first 24/7 news channel in Ukraine, and in 2004 he was a face of the Orange Revolution for TV audience. Prior to that, Andriy Shevchenko was a leader of the journalists’ movement against censorship. In 2002 he became the first chairman of Kyiv Independent Media Union. In 2005 he received the Press Freedom Award from ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (Vienna).”

He did indeed begin his journalistic career writing for my former newspaper. This came about as a result of my relationship with his father Vitaliy Shevchenko, whom I met in Ukraine in May 1991 when I was sent by the Alberta Friends of Rukh to teach the journalists of the Kyiv Regional Rukh branch how to use the computers we had provided, then invited Vitaliy to come to Edmonton to learn on our computers under a program co-sponsored by the Ukrainian Professional and Business Association of Toronto and the Alberta Friends of Rukh. Vitaliy subsequently became the Kyiv Bureau Chief for Ukrainian News and brought Andriy along.

Shevchenko was first elected to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada in 2006 and served for three terms. In 2006-12 he served as the Chairman of the Free Speech Committee, the youngest ever Committee Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament. In 2012-14 he served as the 1st Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Committee. He is a sponsor of 60 legislative acts, adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament. That includes the Law on Access to Information – a cornerstone of the Ukrainian anti-corruption legislation. In 2013-14 Shevchenko was an active participant in the EuroMaidan protests. He was deeply involved in organizing peaceful demonstrations and protecting protesters from the brutal violence of police and other repressions initiated by the authorities. Prior to the appointment to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko served as the Chief of the Party of the USAID-financed RADA Program.

Shevchenko will be sharing his own reflections on his tenure in Canada with us in a future issue. In the meantime, we wish him all the best in his future endeavours, knowing well that he will be successful in whatever he embarks upon. Although he is returning to Ukraine, Shevchenko fully intends to nurture all the contacts and relationships he made in Canada. So, it’s not farewell, but until we meet again.

Слава Украïнi! Герoям Слава!