Brief History of Ukrainian Leadership Academy

The Ukrainian Leadership Academy (the “ULA”) is modeled on Israeli “mechina”, a program for preparing young leaders, established in Israel over 20 years ago.  The Israeli leadership academies were based on the 600-year old English educational programs at Oxford and Cambridge, preparing the next generation of leaders to serve their country.  The Israeli mechinas proved to be both successful and popular and eventually have grown to include 60 academies throughout Israel.

The success and popularity of Israeli mechinas led Mr. Erez Eshel, one of its founders, to explore the idea of establishing such academies in other countries.

In May 2014, Mr. Borys Lozhkin, well-known Ukrainian entrepreneur, met Mr. Eshel during his trip to Israel.  Mr. Lozhkin was fascinated by the patriotism and devotion of Israeli citizens and wondered what was the key to building such a successful nation.  Mr. Eshel introduced Mr. Lozhkin to the concept of the leadership academies and a few months later, visited Kyiv to explore the notion of launching a similar program in Ukraine. With the support of Mr. Lozhkin, Mr. Eshel presented the project of leadership academies to a group of Ukrainian visionaries and volunteers, including Ms. Natalia Popovych, founder of PRP Group and Mr. Lozhkin’s advisor.

In November 2014, Ms. Popovych organized a conference on leadership and invited Mr. Eshel as a speaker.  Mr. Roman Tychkivskyy, Program Manager of the Economic Leadership Program at Western NIS Enterprise fund (WNISEF) was among many who attended the conference and was inspired to hear the Israeli experience of building a modern nation through informal education from early childhood to old age.  In the following few months, Mr. Tychkivskyy and Mr. Eshel researched how best to implement this successful model in Ukraine.  Father Andriy Zelinsky joined these discussions and proposed methods for adapting this youth leadership program in Ukraine.


Shortly thereafter, Mr. Eshel and Mr. Tychkivskyy presented the Israeli leadership concept to Ms. Jaroslawa Johnson, President & CEO of WNISEF, and Ms. Lenna Koszarny, CEO of Horizon Capital and Executive Vice President of WNISEF, who both saw a potential landmark project for WNISEF’s Economic Leadership Program.  In April 2015, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Koszarny conducted due diligence on behalf of WNISEF, visiting nine of Israel’s leadership academies prior to seeking Board approval for funding.  In May 2015, at the WNISEF Board meeting, Ms. Johnson reported on the due diligence trip to Israel, describing the benefits that would come to Ukraine from this innovative project.  The WNISEF Board, having invested in Ukraine for over 20 years, voted unanimously on its own initiative to support creation of the Ukrainian Leadership Academy and approved a $4 million budget for the first such academy in Kyiv.

Three months of intensive work followed. A six-person WNISEF team led by Mr. Tychkivskyy proceeded to adapt the Israeli mechina concept to Ukraine’s educational environment, meeting with scholars, activists, members of the advisory committee, members of parliament and Ukraine’s education ministry. The WNISEF team decided on the Ukrainian Leadership Academy name, designed its logo and jointly developed the ULA curriculum with the help of Ukrainian academics and scholars, led by Father Zelinsky.

Much work was done to adapt this model for Ukraine, develop Ukraine-specific curriculum, select sites, engage faculty, select students and mentors and mobilize funding.  Recognizing that the financial commitment in founding such a program would be significant, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Koszarny proceeded to pre-test the suitability of establishing such leadership academies in Ukraine by assessing support among Ukrainian community leaders.  Mr. Lozhkin became an ambassador for the leadership academy concept within the Ukrainian business community.

Mr. Eshel and the leader of the WNISEF team Mr. Tychkivskyy, accompanied by several mechina students from Israel and other volunteers, visited Ukraine’s top high schools and interviewed prospective students. They inspired these students by reciting the Ukrainian Leadership Academy’s motto: “Create yourself – Create Ukraine! Every tomorrow starts today.” The Ukrainian Leadership Academy’s view is that long-term transformative change in society starts with its youth.  Together with daily hard work and determination, Ukraine can step-by-step be transformed into a new state, with the ULA hoping to open its doors to a new generation in every Ukrainian region.  The presentation ended by encouraging students to “Join us and let’s build Ukraine’s prosperous and secure future together. We are Ukraine!”

Following this national tour of Ukraine’s best high schools, 240 students submitted applications for admission. After additional screening, 39 students were selected for the first ULA class. WNISEF leased and upgraded suitable physical space in Pushcha Vodytsya, a Kyiv suburb, prepared informational brochures to prospective students and their parents and interviewed and engaged instructors.  As a result of the WNISEF team’s hard work, the first academic year of Ukrainian Leadership Academy began a mere three months after WNISEF Board approval with 39 students in September 2015.

The Ukrainian Leadership Academy’s first year was a remarkable success and paved the way for the WNISEF Board to continue its sponsorship.  In spring 2016, the WNISEF Board approved funding to expand the Ukrainian Leadership Academy to campuses in Lviv, Poltava, Kharkiv and Mykolaiv during the second ULA academic year and continues to fund this initiative.

The Ukrainian Leadership Academy program benefited from the interest and generosity of several members of the Ukrainian community who contributed to the program’s success during its first three years:

The personal advocacy and support of Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, Bishop Borys Gudziak, Father Zelinsky, Oksana Ruda, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Vitaliy Sych, Ivan Malkovych, Victor Zotov, Valentyna Zotov, Nataliya Popovych, Oksana Semenyuk, Yaroslav Ruschyshyn, Vladyslav Troistkyi and others.



Father Zelinsky, who visited each academy campus more often than other visiting lecturers and inspired students with his presentations on values-based leadership and basics of political science, in addition to his role in adapting the Israeli model to Ukraine.

Mr. Borys Lozhkin who, with significant support from local authorities and the Mayor of Kharkiv, initiated and organized the reconstruction of a Kharkiv kindergarten into a new ULA Kharkiv facility, securing the first rent-free location for the Academy.

Mr. Victor and Ms. Iryna Ivanchyk and Astarta-Kyiv, who provided financial support for ULA’s Poltava campus and for various student initiatives across Ukrainian Leadership Academy campuses.

As of today, the future of the Ukrainian Leadership Academy is bright.  There is increasing interest among students in attending the Ukrainian Leadership Academy and public recognition of its benefits to Ukrainian society. To secure the Ukrainian Leadership Academy’s continuity for years to come, WNISEF is now raising a $50 million endowment fund from international donors and mobilizing Ukrainian donors to support in-country operating expenses.  To ensure sustainability of this important initiative and maximize funding for education and operations, WNISEF is also moving towards a model where the state and/or donors are responsible for facilities.

The WNISEF Board is proud of its significant contribution to the founding of the ULA and proud of the accomplishments of the hundreds of Ukrainian students who have benefited from this unique educational experience.

During the first three years since the Ukrainian Leadership Academy was launched, over 30,000 Ukrainian students have expressed interest in participating in this ten-month program.  After rigorous screening and selection, 400 students have completed the program in 5 campuses in South, North, East, West and Central Ukraine during its first three years.

We look forward to thousands of ULA alumni forming a leadership movement in Ukraine that will benefit the country and Ukrainians for years to come!