One of the most memorable scenes in the Men in Black movie is where the character of Will Smith guns down target depicting a teenage girl. What could possibly be creepier, than a lonely little girl holding the Quantum Physics textbook in her hands while in the street full of monsters? The great apparent discrepancy between the girl’s image and the setting put the main character on the alert, and he decided to take on a threat. Since Vladimir Zelensky was inaugurated, one character in the Ukrainian politics has been gaining momentum, which also should set off alarm bells for both rivals and associates. Irina Vereshchuk looks like a straight-A pupil (and the age of 41 in politics is practically adolescent), yet, some have already suffered from underestimating her.

While looking into biography of Vereshchuk, the first sensation of discrepancy is evoked by an unusual (for Ukraine) path she took to get into politics. The formative years of independence have brought about personas from business circles and confidants of the Soviet party structures, yet, after Maidan of 2013 they are now accompanied by the unvarnished deadbeats, the sort of Yevgeny Shevchenko, of whom we wrote in the article “Wolf Cub from Kreshchatik”. Irina Vereshchuk is a complete opposite to this character, being a true career politician. She truly is a straight-A pupil with Gold Awards and diplomas with honors, starting from the boarding school and throughout the three higher educations, and practically all the time she’s been working as a civil servant or in an elective office. However, despite the undisguised attempts to promote her visibility (Vereshchuk is a frequent participant in political talk shows, more frequent, than anybody from Zelensky team), we, in fact, know about her only what she wants us to know.

As Irina told in the interview to Dmitry Gordon, a thought of going into politics and engaging in the state management came to her mind while she was studying at the Army Academy (during the Soviet times – Lvov Military-Political Academy) she entered after graduating from school. While young Irina, right down the line, wore the uniform and lived in barracks, her military occupation is called the “International Information”. Simply said, she is a licentiate in military propaganda. This alone is a very valuable experience for a political career, and she added it with the full legal education and completed the President-sponsored courses in state administration. Participation in various foreign traineeships, certificates of appreciation by the Cabinet of Ministers, and other treats enclosed. 

The education cycle took 12 years, after which Irina Vereshchuk didn’t take a rest, but, practically, straight away in 2010 she ran for election and became mayor of the town of Rava-Russkaya.  In that office she came down the pike when at the onset of Euro-Maidan-2013 she pitched the idea of concluding a separate agreement between her town and the EU, as president Yanukovitch had refused to sign the association agreement (afterwards she denied that her move fueled the discourse of separatism in Ukraine). Be that as it may, one can’t deny her energy to work and goal commitment. It is also impossible to deny her inclemency, and she is proud of not having any soft spots towards others and herself (“the leader should part (with people) with no regrets. Hew for the sake of common cause. Just like Lee Kuan Yew, like Golda Meir, like Churchill: calmly and doggedly” — I.V.).

Brutality is not unique to our political reality, yet, Vereshchuk’s peculiarity shows in her systematic approach, firstly, and secondly, in searing attitude to vulgarity. She may let off the contrariety in business, but she will never allow personal bashing. At least, history of scandals she was involved in signifies that. After recent clash with Nestor Shufritch aired live on one of the TV channels, where he tried to fiddle with her last name as a pun hinting on her being talkative, Vereshchuk promised, that the next time she hears something like that, she’d slog him in the jaw. Taking into account her tales of frequent scuffles in the boarding school (“When I realized I didn’t have enough strength, I joined a karate class – I didn’t want to get beaten up and wanted to fight back – I.V.) these were not just words. However, it looks like Irina Vereshchuk prefers to punish her offenders through other means.

For the last ten years Vereshchuk has been married to Mikhail Kukharenko, who now is the deputy chief of “Alpha” – a highly professional, anti-terrorist group, which administratively operates under SBU (Security Service of Ukraine). Previously, Kukharenko had held management positions in the “Alpha” regional divisions in Lvov region. Thus, Vereshchuk possesses of a strong-arm resource, which might have been very useful in the course of her executing the mayor duties in Rava-Russkaya. This town is divided by the state border between Poland and Ukraine, and it has a major border checkpoint and customs. Obviously, illicit trafficking hues the local business with criminal colors and shapes political preferences. Being married to an officer of the law enforcement division rendered her invulnerable to any pressure at that level. However, the strong arm of the regional scale related to the own duty instructions could not help her step up to the level of nationwide politics. It is easier to suppose, that her further ascension had helped her husband to be assigned as the deputy chief of “Alpha” and move to Kiev (for the past one and a half year the anonymous sources have been blaming Kukhareko for engaging “Alpha” in apprehending big-time kleptocrats, meaning that it is not within the mandate of the division).   

Irina learns to fight

Maidan-2013 led to snap elections to the Ukrainian Parliament, and in 2014 Irina Vereshchuk made an attempt to be elected a member of Parliament from her district in Lvov Region. At that time, she suffered a devastating defeat in the battle for a seat in the Parliament, becoming only No.6 from her district. The winner of those elections was Vladimir Parasyuk, who made a good use of his post-Maidan wave of popularity (it was Parasyuk who, from the Maidan stage, called on breaking the agreement with Yanukovich and ravaging his residence, that led to escape of the President from country. Positions two and three were taken by the candidates from then popular parties “Yulia Timoshenko Wing” and “Pyotr Poroshenko Wing” – both of them had powerful media and cash resources. While Vereshchuk didn’t have enough strength to compete with the first three, it was quite a shame to lose to Ivan Bokalo, a businessman and former customs officer, who previously earned fame only through a fabulously sumptuous wedding of his daughter (in April, 2021 Bokalo was included in the list of smugglers against whom the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (SNBO) imposed sanctions). Vereshchuk started to work on getting in the public eye and finding the proper political force, where she could achieve her ambitions.

During Poroshenko’s rule, Irina Vereshchuk didn’t try to fit in the existing political forces. Instead, she had been strengthening relations by becoming the Head of a newly established public organization with a long name – International Center for Baltic/Black Sea Research and Consensus Practices. Under this PO she conducted several round tables with participation of a number of former presidents of the region. As an expert in international relations she was regularly seen on air of oppositional TV channels – News One and 112 linked to Viktor Medvedchuk (this year Medvedchuk was placed under house arrest, and his TV channels’ licenses were revoked), sometimes she showed up on more mainstream settings. She has recorded several complimentary interviews for the Allat-Ra new age movement, which gave evil tongues a cause to blame Vereshuk for allegedly be a participant of or using the totalitarian sect (from time to time she uses terminology like “spiritual enlightenment” and “elaborate on personal trauma experiences”). For what it’s worth, this period of time may be regarded as some kind of stagnation. Probably, in the long run she would have been forced to review certain part of her ambitions, but in 2019 the “electoral revolution” occurred.

The opportunity was provided when a showman Zelensky unexpectedly announced he was running for president as a rival to Pyotr Poroshenko in the 2019 Elections. Zelensky enjoyed massive personal popularity and had deep knowledge in the PR laws, yet, desperately in need of his own political force. Invitations to join the Ze-team were literally placed on the big boards along the roads. Personnel recruited in such a manner didn’t have a particular experience in administrative management, and, when contrasted with them, Irina Vereshchuk stood out dramatically. (“I am a person, who can make arrangements, and this is my shtick. There’s no such a process I can’t arrange” – I.V.). Vereshchuk has quickly made quite an impression on Zelensky. Probably, the hefty contacts she accumulated as a chairperson of the “presidents’ club” came in useful. 

During a crazy election race Irina Vereshchuk revealed her tremendous capacity for work and an organized nature (“Once I had nine TV appearances a day. But it indurates me so much!” — I.V.). In the course of the struggle she, for the first time in her life, had to defend herself against allegations of corruption and disreputable ties. Like that, Tatiana Chernovol, a popular Maindan-hyped journalist and consequent Parliament member, right in the face hinted about Irina’s involvement in illegal extraction and smuggling of amber. Although Vereshchuk is on the list of beneficiaries of the small company named OOO First Amber Exchange Market, and her ties on the border and in political circles of the neighboring states gave grounds for mudslinging, these allegations came to a grinding halt (in late 2020 Chernovol was accused of the first degree murder of an employee of the office of the Party of Regions, which was stormed by protestors she led. Now she is placed under house arrest). Another conflict has come to light, now with Vladimir Parasyuk, when he, during 2014 election debates, also hinted on her corruption. Since then this conflict has been maintained in the form of sarcastic allusions in the social media, but recently, as Parasyuk lost the parliamentary immunity, he began to delete his cavils. Maybe, he deleted his posts because in reply to one of his comments Vereshchuk wrote, that it was Parasyuk, who had opened fire on law enforcement officers in Maidan, which instigated a bloodshed in Kiev in February of 2014.

Whether or not it was for organizational skills of Irina Vereshuk, but in 2019 Vladimir Zelensky and his party People’s Servant gloriously won the presidency (73%) and took 254 (out of 450) seats in the Parliament, that allowed one force to control both executive and legislative power in the country – a combination never seen before. At long last, the heft and influence of Irina Vereshchuk began to grow closer to the desired goal. She is allowed to publically comment on the burning issues of internal and external policies, behind the scenes she’s communicating with president Zelensky personally, and, from the look of it, he listens to her very attentively. According to Zelensky, he admires her wits and skills. At the same time, Vereshchuk decided not to take an official position in the executive power, — she prefers her status of the member of parliament where she’s got a seat through the People’s Servant party list. Rumors about possible assignment to the Minister of Defense office are not confirmed. Probably, it’s because Irina Vereshchuk wants to maintain a relative independence in her actions. Like she said in multiple interviews, she needed an influential position at which she wouldn’t be bound hand and foot by hierarchy.

In the unofficial table of ranks Kiev holds the third position of the important power centers in Ukraine. The capital collects all financial flows from the country, and the “street” support in Kiev is a decisive factor during any political crisis. By personal order of the president, in 2020 elections Irina Vereshuk was named a candidate for a post of mayor of Kiev from People’s Servant, but by the end of the race she finished among the last. The current mayor Vitaly Klichko retained his post, having won in the first ballot (in spring of 2021, there were rummages in his offices and a house building related to the cases of corruption).

Irina Poppins

During campaign for the mayor Vereshchuk used the image of Mary Poppins (on billboards Irina was coming down from the skies with a green umbrella in her hand), showed the contents of her beauty bag, did a zillion interviews. Her self-promotion could be characterized as “impeccably decent style”. It’s a person, who will never appear in public wearing ostrich shoes, like Yanukovich, or wrinkled costume, like Poroshenko. It’s a person, who will never sin against propriety, like the Ukrainian delegation to PACE. Alas, this style doesn’t resonate with the broad Ukrainian public, — they prefer to elect mush-mouthed Klichko as a mayor, and a comedian Zelensky as a president. From a Ukrainian voter’s prospective, Irina Vereshchuk is totally non-charismatic, and lacking self-irony, which is so valuable for a politic. Looks like she’s beginning to realize this praising Zelensky for his skill to hit the taste of the public (“It’s a gift. It truly is a gift.” — I.V.). However, she never lacked diligence or a skill to learn fast, and we can foresee that she will do her best. If she succeeds, quite a few people would regret, that they didn’t stopped her, while they still could.  

1. https://t.me/liberalcomua/67

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