Making dreams come true. How the Kyiv School of Economics Charitable Foundation supports gifted Ukrainians who bring victory closer

KSE Foundation /коллаж Анастасия Решетник

коллаж Анастасия Решетник

The war has united Ukrainians. Scientists, inventors, doctors, engineers, writers, journalists, and human rights activists are bringing the victory closer every day. In the postwar reconstruction period, they will become the core of the countryʼs recovery. They require considerable resources to stay afloat and not give up what they are doing. To help talented Ukrainians unleash their potential, the Kyiv School of Economics Foundation (KSE Foundation) has initiated the Talents for Ukraine grant program. 150 winners of the first wave of the project received grants in 2023 within its framework and with the support of international philanthropists. The second stage, which starts on February 15, is now on the agenda.  

KSE Foundation experts have undertaken the implementation of the Talents for Ukraine program. They select talented Ukrainians from various fields, award them with grants as well as popularize their names in the media and social networks. The program aims at supporting a new generation of leaders and their professional development in Ukraine. How does the Talents for Ukraine program work, and what do the winners of the first stage say about it?

For those who change the world for the better. Philosophy and Values of Talents for Ukraine by KSE Foundation

The Talents for Ukraine program is inextricably linked to the history of the Kyiv School of Economics. The KSE Foundation in Ukraine was established in 2007 to focus on the development of education and science, according to Svitlana Denysenko, Director of the KSE Foundation. Its goal is to improve the level of education in Ukraine so that Ukrainians can compete in the EU and US labor market.

Svitlana Denysenko

Svitlana Denysenko, Director of the KSE Foundation

KSE Foundation had been funded by international organizations for 9 years. However, the partners suspended their investments in 2016, and since then KSE has been raising funds from philanthropists.  

«In 2022, a new vector crystallized in the work of the KSE Foundation», Svitlana Denysenko continues, «With the outbreak of a full-scale invasion, we intensified communication with the international community, calling for help for the military and civilians in Ukraine and not forgetting to support educational institutions». This is how international and Ukrainian philanthropists realized that KSE is a place where ideas are born, a center of change agents. Thatʼs when the KSE team began to nurture the Talents for Ukraine program, which aims at giving talented Ukrainians the opportunity to develop in their homeland despite the war.

Fill out the application form for the second stage of the Talents for Ukraine program on the KSE website here.

About KSE Foundation

3,263 Ukrainians applied for participation as part of the first stage of the Talents for Ukraine program, which ended at the end of 2023. A professional jury consisting of KSEʼs top management, together with consultants from KSE University and KSE Business School, selected 150 winners throughout the year. The amount of the personal grant was determined by the jury individually. The average payment amounted to USD 5000. The largest grant was USD 25,000.

The majority of winners were representatives in the field of culture – 44%, scientists – 24%, human rights activists, public figures, doctors, athletes – 15%, educators – 11%, environmentalists and animal rights activists – 6%.

The total budget of the first stage of the Talents for Ukraine grant program amounted to USD 1 million. These funds were spent on organizing and conducting all stages of the program as well as directly on paying grants.

The most difficult part of working on the program is to recognize talent and unleash its power, says Svitlana Denysenko. «We try to understand how Ukraine needs certain skills and knowledge, how they can strengthen the country. Talents for Ukraine is looking for people who have the power to positively transform the world in their competencies», explains Natalia Kravchenko, Head of Talent and Community Development at KSE Foundation.

Natalia Kravchenko

Natalia Kravchenko, Head of Talent and Community Development at KSE Foundation

«We donʼt direct financial support to projects, but to specific gifted people. We show that we see and appreciate them and that Ukraine needs them. Encouragement and acknowledgment of talent is important for them», Natalia summarizes.

Applications for the second stage of Talents for Ukraine are now being accepted. The conditions remain the same, however, this time the organizers will focus on STEM representatives, among other areas.

Mykhailo Fedorov, Vice Prime Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine

A technological war is taking place in Ukraine. During this time, we have made a big leap in the development of defense tech. The Ukrainian UAV market has developed almost from scratch, and innovative products are emerging that strengthen the soldiers on the battlefield. All this was created by Ukrainians. Amidst the technological war, it is crucial for us to develop innovations. This requires more people involved in STEM – mathematicians, IT specialists, physicists, chemists, and others. The full-scale war has increased the demand for these specialties. In particular, there is a need for engineers who produce reconnaissance, attack, or FPV drones. 

Ukraine is gaining a unique experience that should also be integrated into the education system and scaled up. Together with the Ministry of Education and Science, we are already engaged in the transformation of the education system, in which one of the emphases is the development of STEM education. Children should study natural sciences, math, and develop various soft and hard skills. We also focus on the development of innovative entrepreneurship in secondary and vocational schools, the introduction of the latest programs that will prepare our children for the challenges and professions of the future. I believe that more technological and innovative companies worth billions of dollars will appear in Ukraine through the development, support, and popularization of STEM. This is the foundation for an economic leap and the development of the digital economy. 

Firsthand. Talents for Ukraine winners about their participation in the program

Yevheniia Tyurina (Hlizer)

public activist, designer of clothing for military women, co-founder of Choice 31

Yevheniia Tyurina (Hlizer)

Yevheniia Tyurina (Hlizer)

In October 2021, Yevheniia, together with Artem Borodatiuk, opened a digital career development education company Choice 31 (part of Netpeak Group). «I wanted to do business and scale up, but then the war started», the entrepreneur recalls. She radically changed the companyʼs direction: the Choice 31 team began training the military for free and giving grants to IDPs to learn new professions to help them find jobs and earn money. «This was a significant decrease in income, but a necessary contribution to our victory», explains Yevheniia.

Later, she and her clothing design partner Natalia Rusiaieva learned that there were no womenʼs uniforms, underwear, or bulletproof vests for military women in Ukraine. For a year and a half, they argued with the state about the need to introduce womenʼs military clothing standards. Womenʼs uniforms (type 2 uniforms) were introduced at the state level in the summer of 2023 and bulletproof vests were introduced in November.

«Together with another public initiative, we were the driving force behind bringing this project to the Ministry of Defense. Ukraine is now the first country in the world to have an all-female military uniform (in Israel, men and women wear unisex uniforms, and in the United States, womenʼs uniforms require specialized accounting)».

The Talents for Ukraine program inspired Yevheniia during a blackout in the fall of 2022. She spent part of the USD 5000 grant on the development of FRMT and part on buying a car for a friend who is at the frontline. «Iʼm happy to see my project developing – we accept 50+ new students every month, and the percentage of employment after the Choice 31 career center in 2023 exceeded 64%», Yevheniia shares. Together with her partner, she plans to implement a WTech educational program for women business leaders this year and present it in the regions. 

Yurii Bilous

a lawyer, collects evidence of Russian crimes in Ukraine in the format of video recordings that can be used in cases against Russia at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and in criminal cases against the Russian military in Ukraine

Yurii Bilous

Yurii Bilous

In March 2022, Yurii Bilous realized that he had to make every effort to use his professional skills and knowledge to help the country and the people affected by Russian military aggression. He put aside his commercial law practice and focused on documenting the stories of Ukrainian war crimes survivors to use in lawsuits against Russia.

Over the two years of full-scale war, Yurii has expanded his field of activity.

«Shortly, I will register a human rights center in the format of a public association, where I will help a wide range of Ukrainians affected by the war, in particular, record their losses from the hostilities, compensate for moral damage, as well as represent them in lawsuits against Russia in Ukraine and abroad», says Yurii.

Currently, he continues to devote some time to commercial law. Yurii recently launched an initiative on the Buy me a coffee platform: anyone can donate USD 20 and get legal advice from him. The donations received on the platform will be used to continue the work to protect Ukrainian victims. 

«The USD 5,000 grant from KSE under the Talents for Ukraine program temporarily made my life a little easier, allowing me to work on litigation more calmly and not think about finances», says the lawyer. He has already spent part of the grant on the in-depth study of English.

Yurii Bilous plans to continue collecting evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian army in Ukraine and representing victims of war crimes in courts. «There are already more than 100 thousand registered war crimes in Ukraine. In the realities of war, I have to do this because itʼs about justice, responsibility, and historical heritage. Itʼs a lot of work, a marathon, and it will last for years», summarizes Yuriy Bilous.

Yevhen Kotukh

engineer, scientist, volunteer, and developer of a laser optical data transmission system for VR helmets, antibacterial clothing, and water-repellent shoes

Yevhen Kotukh

Yevhen Kotukh

The full-scale war caught Yevhen Kotukh in Irpin as a program manager at Vodafone. He immediately joined the municipal guard, defended Irpin, was a member of the anti-crisis headquarters of the State Tax University, and led the evacuation of students and teachers. Then he plunged into volunteer work: he transported humanitarian aid, helmets, bulletproof vests as well as military vehicles and ambulances from abroad for units in Kharkiv. Yevhen later traveled to Turkey, where he saw his partnersʼ antibacterial military underwear and organized its production in Ukraine. 

Even before the full-scale war, Kotukh was developing a laser optical data transmission system for VR helmets. «It was a civilian project that my team and I presented in January 2022 at the Consumer Electronics Show, receiving a lot of positive feedback and pre-orders. However, due to the invasion, its implementation was suspended», says Yevhen.

At that time, the team reoriented the project by developing its military purpose.

«This technology provides communication between the operator and the drones using directed laser radiation. Such communication is not vulnerable to enemy electronic warfare systems», Kotukh explains.

He learned about Talents for Ukraine from KSE President Tymofiy Mylovanov when he attended a training on humanitarian demining. The victory was a recognition of his skills and merits. Being a Doctor of Science, and a professor at the Department of Cyber Security at the Dnipro University of Technology, he is not giving up his scientific work. The laser optical data transmission system has a working prototype and is ready for integration with military systems. 

Yevhen spent part of the USD 5000 grant to support the State Tax University in Irpin. «The other part was spent to pay for the publication of an article on quantum computing in the Nature journal – it is very important for me as a scientist. Now this text is being prepared for publication», says Yevhen.

Kristina Berdinskykh

journalist, and author of the YeLyudy project about the participants of the Revolution of Dignity, whose stories became the basis for the book. In 2022, she was included in the BBC 100 Women, a list of the top 100 women who inspire the world

Kristina Berdinskykh

Kristina Berdinskykh

Kristina Berdinskykh has been in journalism since 2007. Before the full-scale war, she covered the political life of Ukraine, but for the past year and a half, she has been writing as a freelancer about the Russian invasion and the Ukrainians who suffered from it. During this time, Kristinaʼs texts have been published in Libération (France), Courier of Central Europe (France), Strangerʼs Guide (USA), The Dial (USA), Financial Times Weekend (UK), Sydsvenska Dagbladet (Sweden), Open Democracy (UK), Die Zeit (Germany).

«I am talking about the war for an international audience. It is important to tell the world what is happening here so that interest in Ukraine does not fade. Iʼm doing my best to make the Ukrainian voice sound loud», says Kristina.

She believes that in journalism it is important not to stop and not to burn out, because now is a historical time that we have to record.

The journalist didnʼt really expect to win Talents for Ukraine, but she still believed she had a chance. Kristina plans to spend a part of the USD 5000 grant from KSE on donations. She will keep the rest as a financial cushion. «Freelancing is about uncertainty. You donʼt always know if youʼll have a job tomorrow. The grant is a bit of a reassurance in this regard», Kristina says.

Recently, Kristinaʼs report was published, written together with her French colleague Stephane Siohan, about the exchange of Ukrainian soldiers that took place on February 8, when 100 soldiers returned home after 20 months of captivity. Currently, the journalist is working with the editorial board of the French newspaper Libération, and her work will be featured in a special issue dedicated to the 2nd anniversary of the start of the Great War in Ukraine and the 10th anniversary of the shootings on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. She is also working on several articles dedicated to the decade of occupation of Crimea.

Oleksandr Mykhed

a Ukrainian writer, author of 10 books, and member of PEN Ukraine (A non-governmental organization that protects freedom of speech and the rights of authors. Its name is an abbreviation that stands for Poets, Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists.). He is the winner of the Yuri Shevelev Prize for the best book of essays (2023).

Oleksandr Mykhed

Oleksandr Mykhed

Before the full-scale war, Oleksandr was a Candidate of Philology and a junior researcher at the Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, produced the literary podcast Station 451. Since the beginning of the invasion, he has written for the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, as well as other foreign media.

On February 24, 2022, Oleksandr began writing the book Call Sign for Job, which was published in 2023.

«Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I have been trying to tell stories of everyday life in Ukraine under genocide. How to talk about the war? How do you write about unimaginable horror? How do you describe love for family, friends, and relatives? How do you melt anger toward the enemy into words?», Oleksandr asks.

Now the writer is in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. «Now my mind cannot think in terms of fiction. It is grounded, rooted in everyday life», he says. 

Winning the Talents for Ukraine grant program is an honor to join the creative Ukrainian community, says Oleksandr Mykhed.

«The support from KSE, both informational and financial, allows continuing my creative work, as well as realizing dream projects and donating to the Armed Forces», says Oleksandr.

Oleksandr Grekhov

author of the illustration for the Holos Krainy branded train, documents the war with illustrations

Oleksandr Grekhov

Oleksandr Grekhov

In 2017, Oleksandr Grekhov began his career as an illustrator. In a few years, he was already a renowned artist – his solo exhibitions were held in Kyiv, Poltava, Lviv, Zhytomyr, Lutsk, and Budapest. Motifs related to the Russian-Ukrainian war began to appear in Oleksandrʼs work in 2018-2019. And after the beginning of the full-scale invasion, he started talking about the war more often and actively through illustrations. 

Grekhovʼs creative portfolio includes collaborations with well-known Ukrainian publications, as well as with the Silpo and Rozetka brands. In the summer of 2023, he drew an illustration for the branding of the Holos Krainy train, which ran from Kyiv to Helm, Poland. Oleksandr depicted the music that unites countries and Ukrainian migratory birds, which symbolized migrants who have migrated but will return.

Nowadays, Grekhov actively cooperates with charitable foundations: he draws images on social media and illustrates announcements of charity events. One of the most recent works is the New Yearʼs Eve collaboration of the Come Back Alive Foundation with the JYSK chain of stores. UAH 10 from the sale of each Christmas gnome were directed to the needs of the Humanitarian Demining Battalion of the Support Forces Command.

Grekhov spent the KSE grant on canvases, brushes, and paints. For him, winning the program has become a piece of free time that he can devote to his own projects. Oleksandr plans to continue documenting the war with illustrations.

«This is an important historical task. Today we hear and see many tragic moments, but we also have life-affirming stories that will be forgotten over time. Captured in illustrations, they will live for generations», Grekhov explains.

Talents for Ukraine for everyone

«Many participants believed that the grant program was not for them, but for someone more talented», says Svitlana Denysenko, «and that society is used to the idea that a grant is a kind of social assistance. But this is far from the case! This is a real opportunity for anyone who works fruitfully and professionally in any sphere».

The emotions of the winners of the first stage speak for themselves. They received the grant in a simple and transparent way – no bureaucracy, they should provide just a passport, TIN, and bank account number. Therefore, KSE advises not to delay filling out the application. «Most of those who won did not believe in this opportunity at first. Whatever the case, the brave are the first to be lucky», Svitlana Denysenko smiles.

Fill out the application form for the second stage of the Talents for Ukraine program on the KSE website here.

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