March 22, 2015
First woman as Deputy Speaker of the Parliament
Graduated from NaUKMA – Political Science, 1997
Published by Kyiv Post+
The biggest complaint that Oksana Syroyid has about her new office in parliament is the shortage of bookshelves. “There are only two bookshelves there,” she says. “And I told them (the staff) I have to move all the books I need for work from my previous office.”
Syroyid, 38, was elected deputy speaker of parliament on Dec.4. She is the first woman to land the job in Ukraine.
Just a couple of years ago she had no plan to enter politics at all., but after the EuroMaidan Revolution and the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych, she realized she could make a difference. Her other motivation, surprisingly, came from Serhiy Kivalov, the controversial veteran politician from the disgraced Party of Regions who headed the Central Election Commission during the rigged 2004 presidential election that triggered the Orange Revolution. He then moved on to head the justice committee in the Verkhovna Rada.
“I thought the best way to get rid of Kivalov there is to replace him,” Syroyid says. She went on to join Samopomich (Self-Reliance), the party headed by popular Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy, the only party her family would let her join, she says.
But even before becoming a politician, Syroyid says her favorite books were mostly about politics. “I probably associated myself with politics during childhood, but later I wanted to become a doctor like all children,” Syroyid says.
Then she changed her mind again. In 1993, she moved from her native Lviv Oblast to Kyiv and went to Kyiv Mohyla Academy to study political science because her first choice – law – was not available.
She started to build a career early, taking her first job aged 18 as an assistant for Mykhailo Horyn, a lawmaker from the Ukrainian Republican Party. She says she had to start working to help her parents financially.
Two years later she became an assistant for Ihor Yukhnovskiy, a former politician and famous physicist. Since then, she said, Yukhnovskiy has been her lifelong mentor.
“I’m a happy person because I had a chance to work with outstanding people,” she explains. “And Yukhnovskiy always told me that it’s important for every person to work intellectually at least four hours daily. Even though he’s 89, last week he came to Kyiv and gave me advice on the Ukrainian Constitution.”
Syroyid proceeded to get two master’s degrees of law – in Ukraine and in Canada – and later headed the charitable Ukrainian Legal Foundation. During her year in Canada she learned a lot about the country’s parliament, and wants to apply some of that knowledge in Ukraine.
“Canadians treat the parliament as part of themselves,” Syroyid says. “And the lawmakers there are very open. It’s also a part of curriculum for school children to go to parliamentary sessions. They trust their institutions. And that’s what we need to do here.”
She said coming to politics from the non-governmental sector is a real challenge. “Basically civic activists oppose politicians, so it’s difficult to shift the focus now and take all the responsibility,” Syroyid explains.
Even though the new parliament is full of former activists, journalists and soldiers, Syroyid says it will still be viewed with suspicion because there are so many people left there from the old times with “a destructive attitude towards Ukraine.”
At least 151 lawmakers from the previous parliament were re-elected.
“However, this parliament will be better than any other we used to have, with at least 36 percent of new people,” Syroyid adds.
Most of all, she said, she wants to bring dignity to the parliament. She looks like she can achieve that. Syroyid is open and warm, and evokes trust, as if you have known her for a long time. She dresses stylishly and slightly conservatively, somewhat like a school teacher.
“Its work should be more transparent so people understand what the lawmakers are doing,” she explains. “People have high hopes for this parliament and it’s always problematic. Because the parliament reflects the society, it can’t be better than society is.”
However, Syroyid thinks the parliament can do better than it had on Dec. 4, when the first brawl in the session hall broke out, just three days after the deputies convened.
“Brawls damage the parliament’s image. It’s a place for talking. But I believe that even people from the war front won’t fight in the parliament – they will learn new ways on how to solve the problems of their battalions,” she says.
Syroyid says she will personally take responsibility for ensuring the parliament improves, and she has full support of her family, which is her parents and grandmother.
“My grandmother who’s 85 cried when she learned about (my appointment as deputy speaker),” Syroyid adds. “She thinks of it as her own achievement.”
She says she is also lucky because her hobby had been learning about the world’s constitutions, and it might just come in handy in her new capacity.
“Once I decided I want to write my doctoral thesis and I even spent lots of money to get a collection of books on interpretations of constitutions. I can read those everywhere – even at the barbershop. And I miss my books now,” she says.