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


Image via Pittwire

Tymofiy Mylovanov, an associate professor of economics at Pitt.

By Alexandra Ross, Senior Staff Writer

Tymofiy Mylovanov sat in a basement in western Ukraine, surrounded by friends and business colleagues all laughing, talking and playing the board game Backgammon.

Above them, air raid sirens rang out in the streets.

“Now there’s some 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 mere days before the February invasion by Russia. He continued to teach classes for a few weeks, and though he has since stopped, Mylovanov said he visited his classes to answer student questions.

A native of Ukraine, he received his master’s of arts in economics from the Kyiv School of Economics — where he now serves as president — in 1999. After getting 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 arriving at Pitt.

He served as deputy board chair for the National Bank of Ukraine from 2016 until 2019, when he became Ukraine’s minister of economic development, trade and agriculture. While he hasn’t served in that role since 2020, Mylovanov continues to advise Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on economic policy.

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

“He realized, I think, like many Ukrainians, that this was a unique opportunity — that there had been a revolution in 2006 and it went backwards, which led to the revolution in 2014, and if Ukrainians didn’t take this into their own hands, they would lose,” Murtazashvili said.

Mylovanov co-founded VoxUkraine — a platform dedicated to fact-checking and analysis of Ukrainian politics, reforms and movements — in 2014. It began as a platform for op-eds, with the fact-checking element coming later. The goal of VoxUkraine, according to the website, is to raise the level of economic discussion in Ukraine and “help Ukraine move into the future.”

Mylovanov said while people can try to describe it in words, the only way to truly understand what it is like to live in Ukraine during the war is to experience it.

“It’s like … to be in a storm, you know, or to give birth to a child, or to, you know, to lose a parent,” Mylovanov said. “You can explain all you want, but until you experience it, it’s really difficult … Until you do it, you don’t understand it.”

Despite all the things he said he has seen and heard in Ukraine, Mylovanov said the country is still “operational,” just working under a “new normal.”

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

Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are currently banned from leaving the country, and Mylovanov said he hopes to know by August if he will be able to return to Pitt for the fall semester.

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

“His ability to be engaging, being funny, [his ability to] relate some extremely complicated things in the real world to, I don’t know, something that everyone understands based on the 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 because of the conflict in Crimea, the COVID-19 pandemic and now the war. 

“The syllabus is developed, the program was developed, so now hopefully after the war, I will run this study abroad program in collaboration with Kyiv School of Economics,” Maksymenko said.

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

Murtazashvili said she and Mylovanov both recognized that the model the center used 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 are trapped. And the intellectuals were at certain death, like, the Taliban would not tolerate them. And Ukrainians, like, these are scholars at war who are determined to fight, and men can’t leave the country because of conscription.”

The Ukrainian Global University partners the Kyiv School of Economics with several other Ukrainian universities, as well as the office of the president of Ukraine. Murtazashvili said the center will support Ukrainian scholars who are staying in the country or Europe through joint online programs and stipends. She said she hopes Pitt will sign on to be a part of the effort.

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

“People should donate, 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 businessman, we can think about … trading projects, or joint production or training of employees in Ukraine, you know, doing things like that.”

Murtazashvili said Pitt is “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’s a role model for so many of us. He’s a role model for me, as I think about, you know, academic leadership and how to build things and do things and create. He’s a real inspiration. He is a rare bird in academia, I have to say.”