Professor Pitt Tymofiy Mylovanov helps Ukraine ‘move into the future’

Tymofiy Mylovanov sat in a basement in western Ukraine, surrounded by friends and co-workers who laughed, talked and played the board game Backgammon.

Above them, anti-aircraft sirens sounded in the streets.

“Now there’s a siren or something, so we all have to go to a basement,” Mylovanov said. “They’re playing a game. I like this game. I’m not very good at it. … You have to play – you have to do something, you know.

Mylovanov, an associate professor of economics at Pitt, returned to Ukraine a few days before February invasion by Russia. He continued to teach classes for a few weeks, and although he has since stopped, Mylovanov said he visits his classes to answer questions from students.

Originally from Ukraine, he earned his Master of Arts in Economics of Kyiv School of Economics — of which he is now president — in 1999. After earning his doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 2004, Mylovanov taught at Penn State, the University of Bonn and the University of Pennsylvania before moving to to get to Pitt.

He served as Deputy Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Ukraine from 2016 to 2019, when he became Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine. Although he has not held the position since 2020, Mylovanov continues to advise Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on economic policy.

As a professor at Pitt, Mylovanov specializes in microeconomics, particularly game theory, contract theory, and institutional design. According to Jennifer Murtazashvili, associate professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International AffairsUkraine’s Dignity Revolution in 2014 “changed everything” for Mylovanov, and his interests shifted from theoretical to political.

“He realized, I think, like many Ukrainians, that this was a unique opportunity – that there was a revolution in 2006 and it backed off, which led to the revolution in 2014, and if the Ukrainians don’t take this into their own hands, they will lose,” Murtazashvili said.

Mylovanov co-founded VoxUkraine – a platform dedicated to fact-checking and analyzing Ukrainian politics, reforms and movements – in 2014. It started as a platform for opinion articles, the fact-checking element facts coming later. VoxUkraine’s goal, according to the websiteis to raise the level of economic discussion in Ukraine and “to help Ukraine looks to the future.

Mylovanov said that although people may try to describe it in words, the only way to truly understand what life in Ukraine is like during the war is to experience it.

“It’s like…being in a storm, you know, or giving birth to a child, or, you know, losing a parent,” Mylovanov said. “You can explain anything you want, but until you experience it, it’s really hard… Until you experience it, you don’t understand it.”

Despite everything he said he saw and heard in Ukraine, Mylovanov said the country was still “operational”, simply working under a “new normal”.

“It’s awful, and it’s also normal,” Mylovanov said. “People try to go to cinemas, where they are available, and worry [will] getting hit by a ballistic missile there, you know, and that’s part of life.

Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently forbidden to leave the countryand Mylovanov said he hopes to find out by August if he can return to Pitt for the fall semester.

Prior to his departure for Ukraine, Mylovanov taught the capstone seminar course on international economics with Svitlana Maksymenko this semester. Maksymenko, a lecturer in the economics department, said it was interesting to see Mylovanov giving lectures and interacting with students, and that his teaching methods are very “student-oriented”.

“His ability to be engaging, funny, [his ability to] relate extremely complicated things in the real world to, I don’t know, something everyone understands based on household level, so that’s a feature of Tymofiy,” Maksymenko said.

According to Maksymenko, she and Mylovanov collaborated to create a study abroad program which would send Pitt students to study at the Kyiv School of Economics, but the program has been delayed due to the conflict in Crimea, the COVID-19 pandemic and now war.

“The program is developed, the program has been developed, so now hopefully, after the war, I will lead this study abroad program together with the Kyiv School of Economics,” Maksymenko said.

According to Murtazashvili, who runs Pitt’s Center for Governance and Markets, the Kyiv School of Economics was the centre’s first international partner. Murtazashvili said the center’s work on behalf of resettled Afghan refugees inspired Mylovanov to create a global university focused on issues in Ukraine.

Murtazashvili said she and Mylovanov both acknowledged that the center’s model for Afghan scholars was “completely inappropriate for Ukraine.”

“First of all, they [Ukranians] have passports that they can travel, they can go to Europe,” Murtazashvili said. “Afghans can’t go anywhere with their passports. They need a visa, they’re trapped. And the intellectuals were certain death, like, the Taliban wouldn’t tolerate them. And the Ukrainians, like, they are academics at war who are determined to fight, and the men cannot leave the country because of conscription.

the Ukrainian World University associates the Kyiv School of Economics with several other Ukrainian universities, as well as the office of the President of Ukraine. Murtazashvili said the center would support Ukrainian scholars staying in the country or in Europe through joint online programs and stipends. She said she hoped Pitt would sign on to be part of the effort.

According to Mylovanov, the United States should do more to help Ukraine, such as declaring Russia a terrorist state and imposing tougher sanctions on the Central Bank of Russia. He also said that US citizens can support Ukrainians through donations and other works.

“People should make a donation, if they can,” Mylovanov said. “People can engage in all kinds of joint projects, you know, if you’re an academic, you can write a paper jointly with Ukrainian academics. If you’re a business person, we can think of… business projects, or joint production or training employees in Ukraine, you know, doing things like that.

Murtazashvili said Pitt was “lucky to have” Mylovanov as a faculty member, and the economist “has so much to offer our university.”

“He’s just a huge resource for Pitt,” Murtazashvili said. “I think he is a role model for many of us. He’s a role model for me, because I think about, you know, academic leadership and how to build things and do things and create. It is a real source of inspiration. It’s a rare bird in academia, I must say.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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