Denys Smyhal held the position of vice-prime minister and minister for Communities and Territories Development in the government of Oleksiy Honcharuk since early February 2020. At the start of 2020, Honcharuk and President Zelenskyy interviewed him for the position.
This was not Shmyhal’s first experience in public service. He started off in 2009 as an assistant to the head of the Lviv Oblast State Administration and was later appointed as the head of the economy, investments, production, and trade department there.
After the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014, Shmyhal worked as deputy head of the Lviv Oblast Fiscal Service but in 2015 returned to the private business.
One of the concerns voiced regarding Shmyhal in media is that he is, possibly, allied with the richest oligarch in Ukraine Rinat Akhmetov. Shmyhal has been a part of the oligarch’s business empire since 2017. First, he held the position of deputy head of DTEK Zahidenergo, Akhmetov’s energy company. In 2018, he became the director of the largest energy producer in the region, Burshtynska Power Plant in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast.
Shmyhal himself denied having a connection to the oligarch, saying that he does not know Akhmetov in person and simply worked in the company.
After the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019, Shmyhal headed the State Administration of the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, a mountainous region in western Ukraine. Back then, Viktoria Siumar, an MP from ex-president Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party, stated that Shmyhal became Zelenskyy’s favorite and has far-reaching contacts with all the big financial groups. Referring to some people in Parliament, she predicted Honcharuk being replaced by Shmyhal in a few months.
Ukrainska Pravda talked to journalists and officials of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast about Shmyhal. They described him as a strong manager and a person of the new century.” However, the interlocutors doubted whether he will be capable of overcoming challenges at his new position, as he might be too soft.
The ability to build a strong team is named among Shmyhal’s strong points. The new minister himself stresses that it is important for him to form his team by himself.
Nevertheless, the media notes that during the work as Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast State Administration head, he did not do anything special, and stayed rather in the shadow of the more public Ivano-Frankivsk mayor Ruslan Marcinkiv.
“He won’t fight for his life in the Cabinet. If he will start, for instance, reforms that will contradict Zelenskyy’s opinion, I don’t think that he will go against Zelenskyy. He can be tasked with responsible missions, but it’s unclear if he himself can produce missions,” Ukrainska Pravda’s interlocutors said.
Shmyhal studied in Belgium, Canada, Georgia, Finland, as well as at the Rhine-Westphalia Technical University under the program of training for managers of the Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy of Germany.
He speaks English and Polish.
“Everything the president announced on 29 August 2019 during the appointment of the previous government but has not been completed will remain our priority. Among them is the continuation of decentralization, creation of a favorable investment climate, energy efficiency, development of industry, agrarian sector, and infrastructure, improvement of the quality of education and healthcare. And most importantly, strengthening national security and defense, ending the war in the Donbas and returning the annexed Crimea. All these tasks will be solved by the new government. And if it won’t solve them, then this government will not be there, this is obvious,” Shmyhal told the Rada today.