Green cardinal, doer and unofficial vice president of Ukraine. Who is Andriy Yermak

Green cardinal, doer and unofficial vice president of Ukraine. Who is Andriy Yermak

The head of Zelenskyy's office, Andriy Yermak, has significantly increased his influence since the start of the full-scale invasion, when the Office of the President has unironically become the centre of decision-making. In Ukraine's parliamentary-presidential republic, Yermak, his deputies and advisers sometimes have more influence and power than ministers or elected members of parliament.

This is also noticed abroad. Yermak was the only Ukrainian in this year's TIME 100 Most Influential People, and POLITICO lists him as a Doer when President Zelenskyy is a Dreamer. Andriy Yermak represents Ukraine in international arenas and diplomatic circles and deals with sanctions against Russia and security guarantees for Ukraine. However, Ukrainians treat him with scepticism and distrust.

Read the article to find out why and who Yermak used to be.

Outside Office

In 2019, Ukraine held elections, with a victory for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, known for his acting and production background and for his role as a humble teacher who suddenly became the president and wanted to change the country in the TV series Sluha Narodu (The Servant of the People). The promotional campaign was a success. 73% of Ukrainian voters cast their ballots for Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

At his inauguration, the newly elected president dissolved the previous convocation of the Ukrainian parliament. In the snap parliamentary elections, Zelenskyy's party, Servant of the People, won an absolute majority in the Verkhovna Rada. In its first weeks in office, several of its members became ministers. Zelenskyy's friend and then leader of the Servant of the People party, Ivan Bakanov, became head of the Security Service of Ukraine and remained in office until mid-2022. 

The president and his circle gained a lot of power and opportunities. At the time, Zelenskyy's office was headed by Andriy Bohdan, who focused on Ukraine's domestic policy. On May 21,  2019, Yermak became Zelenskyy's assistant. 

Andriy Yermak is the son of a Soviet diplomat and holds the MD degree in international law. Until 2019 he worked in law and film production. He has been involved in the production of several films and has established contacts in the US film industry.

In the Office of the President, he focused on foreign policy and international relations. Yermak negotiated with Russia over the war in the east of Ukraine that had been going on since 2014, took part in prisoner exchanges, organised a meeting in the Normandy format (Ukraine–Russia–Germany–France) and negotiated with Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the Biden case.

“Despite the fierce threats, Ukraine has managed to cope and get through this period with dignity. Andriy Yermak's conversation [with Giuliani] was part of this complex diplomatic game. He did everything right, he kept the conversation within the framework of constructive diplomacy, although Giuliani was pressuring him with his unverified data and a clear aim to drag Ukraine into US domestic politics,” wrote Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Kuleba noted that in 2019, Ukraine's national interest was to maintain bipartisan support in the United States, to prevent Ukraine from being accused of 'supporting' one side or the other, and at the same time not to spoil relations with the then US administration.

Yermak's diplomatic connections played an important role during the full-scale invasion. In his relations with Russia, Yermak was involved in prisoner exchanges. Together with former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, he set up a working group to expand and strengthen sanctions against Russia. 

Moreover, along with former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he launched the International Working Group on Security and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, which developed the Kyiv Security Сompact, a systematic vision of security guarantees for Ukraine before it becomes a NATO member.

"At the great moment for Ukraine and for democracy, Andriy Yermak not only serves a decisive leader — but he has proved himself to be one, as well," Rasmussen described Yermak for the 2024 200 TIME list.

Yermak holds talks with the leaders of the partner countries. He and his advisors met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the negotiating table.

Inside Office

Advisors and deputies in the Office of the President, who represent Ukraine in diplomatic circles and have access to the President and sensitive information during a full-scale war, are one of the reasons for the outrage of the civil society, which is committed to preserving democratic values in the country. Ukraine is represented by people who were not elected and who do not have to declare their assets.

Oleh Rybachuk, head of the analytical and advocacy organisation Centre of United Actions, the Chief of Staff to the President of Ukraine in 2005-2006, and Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine for European Integration in 2005, told Svidomi:

“For the first time in Ukraine’s history, a political force, the Servant of the People, got the opportunity to form a government on its own. But this attempt failed. One institution takes over the functions of other branches of government. One example is the head of the Office of the President, Andriy Yermak, who represents Ukraine at international meetings. There are specialised ministries for this. Today, however, power is concentrated in Bankova Street (the street where the Office of the President is located — ed.),"

At the start of the invasion in 2022, Oleksii Arestovych, a freelance advisor to the Office of the President, gave official briefings on the situation at the battlefield. Later, Ukrainians accused him of 'over-reassuring' the nation by predicting that the invasion would soon be over. After a series of scandals, Arestovych resigned and left Ukraine. 

"It remains unclear what the exact responsibilities of the advisers are, what information they have access to, such as that of Oleksii Arestovych, who at the beginning of the invasion mostly commented on the course of hostilities, and whether they influence decisions. In such conditions, there can be no question of responsibility. The Office of the President is increasingly becoming a branch of government in its own right, influencing state policy at various levels. The biographies of the advisers to the Office of the President, the reasons for their appointment and the list of their responsibilities are still not public," writes the CHESNO Movement, which monitors Ukrainian officials and their integrity. 

In January 2023, the CHESNO Movement published the results of a sociological survey. According to the results, Ukrainians believe that representatives of the Office of the President overstep their authority by influencing parliament and the government. This opinion was shared by more than 50% of Ukrainians. About 25% of citizens disagree with this point and another 20% did not answer.

About half of the citizens believe that the Office influences law enforcement and the courts. Andriy Yermak's deputy, Oleh Tatarov, often appears in journalistic articles and investigations as the 'watchdog' of law enforcement agencies. Tatarov became toxic in the eyes of the public in 2014 when he denied that police had beaten peaceful protesters during the Revolution of Dignity.

Ukrainians petitioned Volodymyr Zelenskyy to dismiss Andriy Yermak and Oleh Tatarov even before the war broke out. But they remain in the President's Office. 

After Yermak became the Head of the Office of the President in 2020, MP Geo Leros (first, from the Servant of the People faction and now unaffiliated) released recordings which became known as the ‘Yermak tapes’. The tapes revealed that Denys Yermak, the brother of the Head of the Office of the President, discussed the appointment of people to public office and the ‘price’ for this. The Yermak brothers deny having committed any kind of corruption.

The corruption scandals and abuse of power by the Office of the President continued after the full-scale invasion began. Another Yermak's deputy, Rostyslav Shurma, was charged by the National Agency for the Corruption Prevention of Ukraine with a conflict of interest

According to the NACP, in 2022, Rostyslav Shurma organised and headed the Electricity Committee at the Office of the President. The decisions made at the committee's meetings were favourable to his brother's energy business. 

Shurma called the minutes a ‘legally insignificant document’ with the sole purpose of discrediting and 'damaging his business reputation'.

‘I don't even want to waste time and I don't think it's right to make excuses for the nonsense that is written there. I've seen similar things written in paid-for articles more than once. I am sure that the set of words written in this document cannot be defended in any court,’ Andriy Yermak's deputy wrote on Facebook.

Yermak calls himself the president's manager, and says that his responsibilities include everything that Zelenskyy assigns him: ‘from security issues, international politics, to issues that may not be directly related to the Office of the President, such as deported children or the grain initiative, or working with the parliament on urgent bills and continuing the reforms that are necessary for the European future.’ 

‘I am the President's manager, the Office is a structure that helps the President to fulfil his functions. We do not take over functions that are handled by ministries and other relevant bodies. For example, the Ministry of Infrastructure deals with the grain initiative, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with diplomacy, and the Office only performs coordination functions. It is important for us to coordinate these areas and ensure the president's involvement where it is needed,’ Yermak said in an interview with Forbes Ukraine. 

A sociological survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in February 2024 showed that 61% of Ukrainians do not trust Andriy Yermak. This is 10% more than two months earlier, in December 2023.

“As Ukraine primes its campaign to join the EU and NATO, and at the same time fights to regain its territory, Yermak has acquired immense (some say excessive) power as the key player in Zelenskyy’s war Cabinet. He effectively holds the reins on Ukraine’s government and parliament, while allowing his boss to keep his hands (and his international image) squeaky clean,” POLITICO writes about Andriy Yermak.