A fighter for freedom and leader of a nation, Viktor Yushchenko, third president of Ukraine, is slated to speak alongside his wife, Kateryna Yushchenko, to the Southern Utah University Class of 2016 on Saturday, April 30, 2016.
Yushchenko, who served as president of Ukraine from 2005 to 2010, brought free elections to the country and greater integration into global economic institutions, reduced government debt, and navigated the tumultuous transition from totalitarianism to equality and justice.
“One of our goals at SUU is to help students understand their place in the global world and give them skills to succeed in that sphere,” says SUU President Scott L Wyatt. “This experience will be rich and unique for our graduates, as it is a rare occasion to have a former head of a foreign state give a commencement speech in his native tongue, calling for the need of a translator.”
Before his administration, President Yushchenko was a member of parliament, prime minister, and led the democratic coalition party Our Ukraine. He helped empower a communist country with the ideas of democracy, ultimately leading him to run in an election that was proven corrupt, where presidents were hand-picked by existing government officials. His popularity caused the existing regime to fight against his party and even poison him to prevent his victory in the 2004 election.
This near-death experience did not stop President Yushchenko from triumph. If anything, it made him even more determined to lead his country out of the state of government and political corruption it had been living in for decades. In the country’s first free election in 2004, he won a second runoff vote to secure victory. Hundreds of thousands of protestors had come together in Independence Square, Kiev, demanding that second ballot because of evidence of electoral fraud.
President Yushchenko began his professional career as a banker, graduating from the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute in 1975. He received his Ph.D. from the Sumy Banking Academy and was the Governor of Ukraine's Central Bank from 1993 to 1999.
He remains a vocal supporter of democracy and currently heads the Victor Yushchenko Institute, an independent think tank dedicated to promoting ideas such as freedom, justice, rule of law and national consciousness.
His wife, Kateryna Yushchenko, was born and raised in Chicago, Ill. She is the chair of the Ukraine 3000 Foundation, an organization that addresses difficult social issues for the children of Ukraine, and which has over the last 10 years raised and distributed more than $50 million in assistance to citizens of Ukraine and their children.
After receiving a degree in International Economics from Georgetown University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, Mrs. Yushchenko was a prominent figure in the United States Government. She worked in the White House during the Reagan Administration, the U.S. Treasury while George H. W. Bush was in office, served on the staff of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress and was the director of Pylyp Orlyk Institute.
She moved to Ukraine in 1993 where she served as country director and bank training manager for KPMG/Barents Group. There, she met her husband and the two were married in 1998.
Open to the public, SUU’s annual Commencement festivities of April 30 will begin at 9 a.m. in the Centrum Arena.
Ukraine landscape photo by Miranda Jones.