I was born on January 10, 1971 in the city of Alexandria, Kirovograd region. In September of the same year, my family moved to Kyiv. It was in Borshchagovka region that I spent my carefree and happy Soviet childhood. In those days Borshchagovka was a cosy workers' residential area. My parents, Anatoly Pavlovich and Maria Mikhaylovna, were engineers. My dad built roads and my mother built bridges. My grandparents on my mother's side were farmers who worked on a farm on the outskirts of Novoukrainka, Kirovograd region. My dad’s father was a worker at factories in Dnepropetrovsk and Alexandria, and my grandmother on this side was a housewife.
In 1978, I went to study at secondary school №206, seven days after the birth of my younger brother Pavlo. My school was normal, like thousands of others in Ukraine, but I got a good education due to the high professionalism of my teachers.
In 4th grade I became involved in athletics, which for the next eight years was almost the meaning of my life, and nearly became my profession. Training, competitions, workshops and trips took most of my time. During my sporting career I became a candidate for national master of sports of running the 400-meter hurdles, a member of the junior national team of Ukraine and a candidate for the junior national team of the Soviet Union.
My choice of future profession was helped by my father, Anatoly Pavlovich. We determined that the best profession for me was the legal profession because it requires human qualities such as honor, integrity, initiative, responsibility, self-discipline, and the ability to think critically.
It was then, at the age of 16, I had a dream - to become an international lawyer. But the desire to enter the international law faculty of Kyiv Taras Shevchenko National University was a major challenge for a young man from an ordinary Soviet family. Therefore I stayed with my love of athletics and I entered the Kyiv Institute of Physical Culture. For two years I trained, studied anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, theory and practice of the training process. I later realized that this was not the life for me, and at the beginning of the third year I took a sabbatical to determine my future.
I thought long and hard. First, I transferred to the Faculty of History at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. Then, after a year of successful study, I transferred to the Faculty of Law, and later I managed to get to the newly created Institute of International Relations - "KIMO". Thus I achieved a major long-term strategic goal.
I started in 1992 at the Law faculty in KIMO. In the previous year I got a job at the law firm "Legis", the head of which at the time was Alexander Chaly. I was fortunate to work with him personally - in the role of his assistant. Alexander has been an example for me of professionalism, integrity and commitment. He became the man who taught me the first skills of legal practice and interaction with people. From him I learned how to think logically and analyze information, to negotiate, to communicate with foreign customers, to manage accounts and much more. Before I started to study at the Law faculty, Alexander Chaly asked me if Law is really what I want to do, or is it just a passing fad. I did not answer but decided to actually prove the seriousness of my intentions.
Soon Olga Ihorevna Lukashuk – a lecturer in international economic law in KIMO - noticed my abilities. It was she who helped me in 1993 to get a job in the law firm "Frishberg and Partners" - one of the few companies, which at the time worked with Western standards. There, I received my first practical lessons of advanced methods and techniques of conducting legal practice, the organization of the lawyers and the entire office, as well as witnessed the unrivalled skills of Alex Frishberg in attracting customers.
In my opinion, education and personal development is a continuous process. We must learn all of our lives, because the world does not stand still, the world is always changing, and there is always something new. And so we need to use all the chances that life gives us to learn something new, especially in our student years. So, while studying at Kimo during 1993-1996 I was taking extra lessons and gained experience outside university: an internship at the Ukrainian Embassy in Brussels, the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine and the law firm "Vasil Kisil and Partners."
I also took summer courses at the Academy of European Law at the European University in Italy and was active in public life in law student circles: I created the League of Student Lawyers at KIMO, the all-Ukrainian Association of Law Students and participated in the activities of the International Law Students Association. In the summer of 1996 I passed the Law exam and became a lawyer.
I am convinced the only people who make no mistakes are those who do nothing. You will not reach success if you are afraid of failure. In 1993, when I was the 3rd course of Kimo, my friend and I (he was also a certified lawyer), carried out the first attempt to create a law firm, which was called "Principle." The attempt was unsuccessful, and after a few months the firm ceased to exist, but the experience only confirmed in me my desire to create my own business and succeed.
Life is an interesting and mysterious thing full of surprises. One pleasant surprise in my life was to undertake specialist training under the leadership of a remarkable and sincere person – Vasil Ivanovich Kisil. A demanding tutor and senior partner at the law firm "Vasil Kisil and Partners", he always helped his most diligent students to gain experience of legal work.
His technique was very kind. He gave a folder with client documents, formulated the required task and pointed to the door. And that was it! Without specifying the workplace or methodology, he expected the right result, even with no computer and no Internet in the year 1994. I had to work in the law library in the day and at home in the evening. But I produced the right results, and all for the fee of $20 a month!
One of my classmates Alexey Didkovskiy joined me with Vasil. Subsequently, Vasil inspired us to a fateful decision - the creation of a private law firm. In the fall of 1995, two 5th-year students, having neither enough money nor stable customers created the law firm "Shevchenko Didkovskiy and Partners", which in just eight years became the #1 law firm in Ukraine.
The first months of work turned out to be very complex: costs were high while customers were few. Vasil supported us, in a way, throwing us small customers who were uninteresting (non-core) for his firm. We stayed afloat and believed in the path to success. However, soon there was another problem. Revenues barely exceeded expenditures, as the cost of office rental increased to such an extent that we could no longer afford. So, a “Sword of Damocles” hung over the firm. But we decided not to give up and, with clenched teeth, redoubled our effort.
That's when the news came that I had won a scholarship and got the chance to study at the Law School of Minnesota State University. On the one hand, it was very good for me personally, and in the future - and for the company, but on the other - Alexey would be left alone with the problems of the start-up firm. After talking, we decided that he would try to keep our business afloat, and I would study in the US and seek new customers and develop business contacts.
Alexey Didkovskiy was doing the work of two people in Ukraine and I was doing the double work of study and looking for contacts in the United States. Even on vacation, I did not go to California or Disneyland, like the majority of students. I wrote and sent letters and resumes, trying to get an internship at a major US law firm. I wrote over a hundred letters to various law firms in the United States and was rewarded with three positive responses. I was invited for an interview with three highly respected law firms: "Coudert Brothers", "Steptoe & Johnson" and "Covington & Burling". I could not decide between these three excellent options alone, therefore I sought the advice of Sandra Day O'Connor - a legend of American jurisprudence that I knew personally, who was the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of the USA. After analyzing the circumstances and my next plan, she advised to choose "Coudert Brothers". And she was not mistaken. It was another fateful decision. All my subsequent life and the development of the company was defined by this decision.
In May 1997, after successful completion of law school in Minnesota, at the invitation of "Coudert Brothers," I moved to New York and began to prepare for the most difficult exam of my student life – the New York Bar Exam. For 25% of American law school graduates, native speakers, this exam is an insurmountable barrier to a legal career. And what about for a foreigner such as myself! But I would not be a true “Shevchenko” if I could not show by my own example that Ukrainians are a clever nation. In fact, after myself and another Ukrainian passed the examination while two Russians failed, attitude to Ukrainians as a nation forever changed at Coudert Brothers!
The greatest achievement of my internship was beginning cooperation between "Coudert Brothers (a huge international company) and a our Ukrainian startup "Shevchenko Didkovskiy and Partners". I was still working in New York when we jointly implemented our first project - legal support of the purchase by Norwegian telecommunications company "Telenor" of a significant stake of the Ukrainian company "Kyivstar". Thus, "Telenor" was our first significant customer, and remained of strategic importance for many years.
In December 1997, I returned to Kyiv and again headed the firm, while Alexey Didkovskiy focused on legal work with clients. We were beginning to work even harder, because now we had many more engagements. Our work was noticed by international law firms who began to cooperate with us. New major foreign customers joined us, without any advertising, just by word of mouth due to our reputation for quality and timely work of exceptional integrity, honesty, and responsibility. We were mainly engaged in legal support of large investment projects, thanks to which Ukraine has received billions of dollars of hard currency investments in strategic sectors of the economy, which created thousands of new high-paying jobs, attracting new technologies and know-how. We never became engaged in lawsuits because of the high level our integrity in interacting with the Ukrainian judicial system.
In 2003, the company was ranked among the most profitable law firms in Ukraine, and in 2004 and 2005, the firm "Shevchenko Didkovskiy & Partners" took first place in the overall ranking of the best law firms in Ukraine in the newspaper "Legal practice". In 2006, according to research by the magazine "Correspondent", our company was recognized as the "Best Employer" of all the legal and auditing firms. So I had reached my second strategic goal, creating the company of my dreams and gained financial freedom and stability.
Having built a successful business, I began to think about how I could be a force for good in the world. How could I be useful to society and Ukraine? I decided to start with the legal profession, which I knew well. I set a goal to improve the quality and standards of the legal profession in Ukraine. Of course, it was a very difficult task and impossible to do it alone. That is why, in 2002, I initiated the establishment of the Ukrainian Bar Association (UBA) and was its president for two terms until 2007. The first steps were very difficult for the UBA. The unspoken monopoly of Victor Medvedchuk, who was very influential at the time in the field of jurisprudence, multiplied by mistrust across society, a competitive mind-set between businesses and personal ambitions of some colleagues, hindered the development of the UBA. But, when after a few months of active work, everyone understood the usefulness of the project and the sincerity of my intentions, the UBA began to develop rapidly, gaining the trust and respect of both legal practitioners, lawyers, notaries and lawyers of civil servants, including ministers, deputies, judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional courts. The UBA has become the most credible and effective organization in Ukrainian jurisprudence and has really positively encouraged the development of the entire legal profession in Ukraine. In 2008, I was elected Honorary President of the UBA.
The organization’s successes inspired me to even more ambitious thoughts and actions. I believe that law and order are the basis of any society, so from 2005 to 2007 as a member of the National Commission on Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law under the President of Ukraine, I actively participated in reform of the judicial system of Ukraine. We developed the concept, ensured its adoption and final signature by the President of Ukraine. In accordance with this concept, we have a bill that can quickly and effectively stop disorder and corruption in the courts, but, unfortunately, problems remain in the offices of the Verkhovna Rada. Also, we developed the Criminal Justice Reform Concept and the system of free legal protection. I hope this work will one day be fully realized in practice.
I did not want my work to be limited to strictly the legal sphere. I wanted to contribute to the development of other spheres of Ukrainian society. So, in 2005, I became a member of the Council of Entrepreneurs under the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and worked to improve conditions for small and medium-sized businesses, and was subsequently appointed an advisor to the Prime Minister of Ukraine on foreign investments, work I understand well thanks to many years of engagements with foreign investors. I wrote a proposal and prepared programs and plans to attract strategic (not speculative) investments. This was handed to the Prime Minister, but, unfortunately, remained only on paper. The reasons for this were because of a lack of time on the part of the Prime Minister and, a little later, the unexpected resignation of the government.
After working with Ukrainian public administration, with my own eyes I saw the incompetence and inefficiency of the state apparatus in Ukraine. I realized that the vast majority of officials use their powers are not for the benefit of society and the country, but for personal enrichment, often to the detriment of society. In Ukraine, there are very professional and effective professionals, but they are too few, and at the highest ministerial positions where decisions are of strategic importance, this proportion has been historically even smaller. That's why the whole system of government operates below the level Ukraine deserves. The country is not developing and improving the life of every citizen, in fact we are in many ways in decline.
Disappointed with my experience as an adviser to the government, I still did not abandon my desire to make Ukraine better. I decided to look for other ways to positively influence government and society. I began to actively explore the experience of successful countries, using all possible sources: books, international periodicals, the Internet. But it was not enough. I was looking for communication with primary sources, meaning unique knowledge and practical experience. And I found it. In 2006, I was elected the first Ukrainian member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It was a real breakthrough at the highest global level. A visit to the Davos World Economic Forum and the Summit of Young Global Leaders gave me the opportunity to personally meet and talk with international leaders: politicians, government officials, journalists, religious leaders, community leaders and artists. With some of them, such as the ex-president Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, I began a really friendly relationship that lasts to this day.
Participation in the Forum of Young Global Leaders inspired me to create the Forum of Young Leaders of Ukraine in August 2006 to enable interaction of extraordinary young Ukrainians who are just like me in caring about the fate of Ukraine. I am convinced that quality new young people can through their hard work change Ukraine. This work continues now.
In 2006, the focus of my interests and activities shifted from law to social problems and strategic leadership. But I still lacked knowledge in this area, and I realized that there was a need to continue my studies at another level. I took part in an international competition to study at Yale University and won. From August to December 2006, at the age of 35, I again became a student. I was the first Ukrainian to take part in a special global leadership program. With the best professors from Yale University, I intensively studied geopolitics, constitutions, state and municipal administration, international relations, economics, security, religion, urban planning and many other disciplines which a modern leader must understand at the international level. The program also included a large number of meetings and discussions with interesting people. In addition to theoretical courses, we were taught the art of public speaking, communication with the press and other practical skills.
The process of leadership training continued in the autumn of 2007 in Harvard University at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. It was an intensive course of state management and global leadership, organized specifically for members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, to which I belong.
Study at Yale and Harvard, participation in the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum in Davos, communication with extraordinary personalities from different countries, continents, cultures, religions and activities have greatly enriched my knowledge, broadened my outlook, helped me to look at things from a different angle and inspired me to great things and instilled confidence in the future.
With new experience, knowledge and aspirations, I felt an inner inspiration and the ability to do strategic things that have a systemic character. I realized that the practice of law and business limited my ability to do great things, because big things require full commitment. Aleksander Kwasniewski told me that I can reach ambitious goals, but I have to spend not 100, but 120 percent of my time and energy. In addition, strategic public service requires complete freedom and the absence of conflicts of interest. Business interests are often in conflict with the public interest.
That is why at the end of 2007, I decided to make another fateful step. I went out of business, ceased to participate in the law firm, and concentrated all my efforts on strategic public work. This decision, which was seen by many as very strange and incomprehensible, was voluntary, deliberate and conscious, because I decided to dedicate my life to others and Ukraine.
“Dedicate my life to others and Ukraine”. Today, it sounds pompous, unrealistic and suspicious, but it is true. I really decided to do everything in my power to ensure that Ukraine become stronger, and Ukrainians live better and happier. But what could I do to achieve maximum effect? Go into politics or the civil service? Today, for me - it is a vain thing. At the present stage in Ukraine there is no politics in its real sense, i.e., governance for the benefit of the people. Today Ukrainian so-called "politics" is a crude and dishonest struggle for power for personal gain and profit. The modern Ukrainian civil service as a whole is mostly focussed on theft from the budget, the use of state property for its own purposes, taking bribes, and lobbying for insiders’ businesses. Of course, there are exceptions, there are honest professional public servants, but, unfortunately, not enough. What can be done?
I decided to go the other way - to work directly with people, helping them to organize themselves, to obtain the necessary knowledge to learn and impart information, as well as to influence the government at all levels.
In October 2008, the idea to create an organization that would be able to unite socially-active Ukrainians (Ukrainian citizens, regardless of nationality) around a common goal. So I formed a group (“Hromada” in Ukrainian) working to create a new quality of society in Ukraine.
In the summer of 2009, I began to think about how to direct the resources of the state to improve Ukrainian society and the life of every individual. I came to the conclusion that the only force that can do that is government, which, unfortunately, is now used for other purposes, and self-interest. At the moment, the public impact on the political apparatus is so small that the government almost does not notice it. There is a better situation with the media, but not much, because the vast majority of media are dependent on their owners, which are linked to the government and have no desire to change anything.
The only way to change the situation is to bring decent people to power who will use their powers only for the benefit of the Ukrainian people, that is to act on the principle of the priority of public good over personal interests.
The current political system and the existing political parties as its main components, for many years demonstrate their inability and unwillingness to give power to decent people who are honest, competent and ready to sincerely serve the people.
That is why in 2010 I decided to concentrate all my efforts on the creation of this ideological and effective political party which will work openly and transparently for all of society and will be an effective mechanism to bring power to decent people who bring Ukraine to prosperity.
I am confident that success comes as a result of dedication to something bigger than yourself.