On August 24, 2022, as part of the national commemoration of Independence Day, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy presented official recognitions to servicemen, Ukrainian families, and supporters of Ukraine. Among those recognized was former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Michael McFaul, who was awarded the Order of Merit, Third Degree.
The awards were given for “significant personal merits in strengthening interstate cooperation, support of state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as a significant contribution to the popularization of the Ukrainian state in the world.”
Other merit award recipients recognized include journalists Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, and Jake Tapper; actors and directors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller; members of the bands Imagine Dragons and U2; and director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Peter Gelba. A full list of the recipients is available on the official website of the President of Ukraine.
For McFaul, the recognition is a tremendous honor, both personally and professionally. A long-time scholar of both Russia and Ukraine, he is unequivocal about the importance of Ukraine in the current state of geopolitics.
“President Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s warriors, and all Ukrainians are leading the fight for democracy, freedom, and sovereignty against tyranny, repression, and imperialism,” he says. “They are heroes. Not just for Ukraine, not just for Europe, but for the entire world.”
As the director of FSI, Professor McFaul has overseen a purposeful expansion of Ukraine-focused programming and fellowships offered by the Freeman Spogli Institute.
In 2005, McFaul was a leading proponent to bring Ukrainian professionals and mid-career civic leaders to Stanford to participate in what was then known as the Summer Fellows program, now the Draper Hills Summer Fellows, which offers training and education for professionals from emerging democracies.
“We made a big bet way back in 2005 on Ukraine’s cause,” he acknowledges. “Then and now, we view Ukraine as a frontline country in the global struggle for democracy,”
That institutional commitment to support Ukraine and other emerging democracies has continued to expand. In 2016, the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law launched the Ukrainian Emerging Leaders Program (UELP), which sponsors cohorts of young Ukrainian civic leaders for a yearly fellowship of academic courses, faculty mentorship and community engagement. In the six years since its inception, many alumni of the program have gone on to work in prominent roles in the Ukrainian government.
“When you see pictures today of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his bunker in Kyiv, Serhiy Leshchenko is right next to him. He’s one of our graduates,” Francis Fukuyama, an academic advisor for the Draper Hills Summer Fellows and UELP, recently told the Stanford Daily.
Engagement with and support of Ukraine’s civic sector culminated in a visit to Stanford by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in September 2021. The first Ukrainian president to visit California, Zelenskyy spoke to an eager crowd at a packed outdoor event in the Bechtel Courtyard about the potential he saw for Ukraine’s future, and how partnerships with institutions like Stanford can help support that future.
In May 2022, FSI was honored to host President Zelenskyy for a second address and Q&A, this time via a live video feed from Kyiv to Stanford students watching in the CEMEX auditorium.
Since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, the FSI community and its faculty have continued to offer ongoing analysis and commentary about the conflict, participating in student-led events, and meeting with the highest levels of government officials in the U.S. and beyond.
Alongside co-coordinator Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to President Zelenskyy, Professor McFaul has been instrumental in organizing the International Working Group on Russian Sanctions, which is a nonpartisan, independent network of experts who are actively researching how governments and private companies can sanction supporters of Putin’s war and oppressive regime. Recommendations from the group have been adopted by the Ukrainian government and heard as testimony before the United States Senate.
In his speech to the award recipients, President Zelenskyy told the audience he felt assured that such commitment exists amongst Ukrainians and their allies.
“We will preserve Ukraine's independence forever,” he said. “We will preserve it, because we have such unity. We will preserve it, because we all have an understanding of what and whom we are fighting for.”
Looking to the future, Zelenskyy continued, “The day will surely come when we will congratulate each other on our most important goal, on this result — the victory gained by our historic struggle.”