WASHINGTON, D.C. –Two of the driving forces propelling the Ukrainian Leadership Academy to success came to the American capital on Feb. 13 to present a progress report about their innovative education program aimed at developing new generations of leaders in Ukraine and to consider ideas on how to fund it in the future.

Ukrainian-American Jaroslawa Johnson, president and CEO of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, which funds the academy, flew in from Chicago. 

Canadian-American William Petruck, president and CEO of Funding Matters, came from Toronto to the meeting hosted by the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council and its president Morgan Williams. Petruck’s organization helps the Ukrainian Leadership Academy, or ULA, with long-term planning and funding.

Those attending included business council members whose organizations are considering contributing to ULA, successful Ukrainian-American businessman and philanthropist, George Chopivsky, representatives of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Ukrainian Embassy in the United States.

In the picture: Ukrainian-American Jaroslawa Johnson, president and CEO of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, and Canadian-American William Petruck, president and CEO of Funding Matters, speak at the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council meeting in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13, 2019.

The Western NIS Enterprise Fund began working in Ukraine soon after the country’s independence with a mission to seed Ukrainian businesses with a $150 million investment fund from the U.S. government. 

Johnson said the U.S. government had given the investment fund permission to use some of the profits to initiate and support the ULA, amounting to about $10 million so far, but that the Western NIS “assets and funds will eventually run out by 2030 and so we are working on setting up an endowment fund to continue supporting the academy after those funds run out.”

Petruck said an ULA-registered body in the U.S. and another being formed in Canada intend creating a $50 million endowment corporation which will use the money for investments in Ukraine with income from profits supporting the academy.

He said: “These academies have to be sustainable and what that means is we have to have the funding in place and the endowment that will generate enough income that will support these students year after year.” 

Petruck said the ULA is interested in hearing from anyone wanting to contribute to the task of sustaining the academy’s work.  Potential partners could include corporations working in Ukraine, diaspora organizations or businesses, perhaps for tax benefits, individuals wanting to help Ukraine advance, and people considering how to arrange their estates following their deaths. He said some money donated for specific purposes could even be named after benefactors.


Johnson said the academy aims to expand students’ emotional and ethical, as well as intellectual, horizons, bringing together students from Ukraine’s disparate regions, and instilling a sense of responsibility to develop  a democratic and prosperous Ukraine.

The course is designed for those who have completed high school and are willing to devote 10 months – usually before going on to university – to enroll in the academy’s full-time, intensive courses. The average age of students is 17. 

She explained students spend six days a week at the academy with their timetables beginning at 6:40 a.m. with yoga, running, or martial arts. 

Johnson said the studies are divided into three “classroom modules” of three and a half hours each where they study languages, humanities, social sciences, and management with great emphasis placed on emotional intellect and development, models of leadership, communications skills, group dynamics, and conflict resolution.

At the end of the day, the students discuss with mentors what they have learned. She said: “It’s important for them not only to hear the information but to analyze it and commit to it and understand why it’s important to do it.” 


The students, who are expected to build their careers  in Ukraine upon completing studies rather than emigrate, are selected on merit, unlike with some of Ukraine’s elite higher education establishments, where the main criteria parents’ ability to pay high fees.

ULA doesn’t charge fees and pays the accommodation, food, travel and other charges for all those who pass the selection tests, which delve into candidates’ schooling, personalities and even sports and physical endurance aptitude. The courses are in Ukrainian and the ULA wants students competent in English.

Johnson said: “We do not look at the socioeconomic backgrounds of the parents of applicants.  We have rejected the children of ministers and thrown them out of school if they didn’t behave appropriately. We believe that any young kid that is smart enough and who is committed and wants to work as part of the team should have the opportunity to come.” 

The academy began operating in 2015 when there were 220 applicants. Each year as information has spread about the ULA, the number of applicants has grown and 480 students have graduated. This year 3,212 applied and 245 were selected with women students forming 60 percent of the intake.

The first academy was in Kyiv but there are now others in Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava and Mykolaiv.  A sixth is planned for Chernivtsi.  Expansion plans envisage one campus in every oblast of Ukraine with 1,000 students admitted annually by 2030.


Johnson said: “We have Crimean Tatars, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics from all over the country. The composition of our classrooms is very unusual for Ukraine because these kids come from tiny little villages and from big cities; from wealthy families and from very poor families.”

She said the students are deliberately placed in academies far from their home areas so they can meet and bond with compatriots who hitherto they might have thought of as foreigners. “The notion is to build a unified country, not to have a country that’s split up by different divisions,” she said.

So far there have been more than 480 graduates but Johnson and Petruck explained that the project has affected far more people.  All the students are required to take part in voluntary work during their time studying and those applicants who were not enrolled are still offered training and a part to play in volunteer work.

An estimated 44,000 people have been involved or touched by voluntary work, which has seen 75 projects in five cities, and many others have in turn been inspired so that ULA believes over 130,000 people have been “impacted” by the academy’s ideas.


All the students go abroad for part of their time at the academy. They always visit Israel and the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels.

Johnson said the students visit Israel because the ULA had been inspired by and partially modeled its own curriculum on an academy set up in Israel in 1996 to help guide young people on a path to becoming patriotic and responsible citizens. The academy has also drawn on traditions from Britain’s Oxford and Cambridge universities.

She said: “Israel’s got certain similarities which are instructive for Ukraine – it’s a country surrounded by enemies who will be there forever and promotes the idea that you have to develop good civil responsibility for the country. Israel also shows that you can build a country out of sand and pretty much nothing else.

“We take them to Europe because we we want  them to see why the values of Europe and the EU are so important.”

The trip starts at the Auschwitz Nazi-era concentration camp, in Poland, to show what the worst ideas in Europe can lead to and go on to the EU headquarters in Brussels – a unifying counterforce to the evils of totalitarianism.


Many prominent Ukrainian politicians, including President Petro Poroshenko, have visited the academy and want to incorporate some of its ideas into the general Ukrainian education system.  

Johnson said 55 percent of Ukraine’s teachers were trained in Soviet pedagogical institutes “so you can’t expect them to teach democratic principles – it’s not that they’re against them, they just don’t know how to do it. So the ULA has a liberal arts program for teachers.”

That operates in academy classrooms when they are empty of students at weekends.  She said: “We have professors teach them and talk about the different principles that are important in England, France,  and throughout Europe and why they should engage some of those ideas. We’ve had over a thousand teachers go through those programs.”

Businesspeople have also been impressed, looking at the graduates as possible employees not just for their own companies but as a force for developing the entire country’s economy.  Many local businesses are helping to support the academies in their regions. 

Johnson said that although ULA will remain under private control rather than give Ukrainian authorities a big say in its running, the academy hopes Ukrainian donors will bear more of the costs.  

She said: “We genuinely believe that the operational costs – rent or provision of buildings –  will be borne by the Ukrainian side. In the communities where we have an academy now, local government and local businessmen have come up with funds to cover the rent costs and the administrative costs.  

“In new communities where they want to have an academy they have to come up with the funds so that those costs don’t become a burden on the endowment funds.”

The academy is a U.S. Ukrainian Business Council member and Morgan Williams said ULA had proven it can work and he hopes that there will soon be an academy in every oblast. 

Williams said: “What’s so impressive is that these kids, after 10 months, are proud to be Ukrainians, they’re proud to have been a part of this program – they are patriots.  They are also for free enterprise, a private and free press, they’re for the things that we think make our country, the U.S.A., strong and make Europe strong.”

LINK: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/ukrainian-leadership-academy-planning-for-future-generations.html

USUBC NOTE: Western NIS Enterprise Fund and Ukrainian Leadership Academy are members of U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC), Washington, D.C. www.USUBC.org