Dr. Irina Khmelko grew up under communist control in Kiev, Ukraine, and faced persecution just for sneaking to attend church. Khmelko is now assisting her native country in forming a more democratic government by partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Dr. Irina Khmelko

Dr. Irina Khmelko

“I have an interest in helping countries become democracies because I’ve been on the other side. I grew up in a totalitarian government where you weren’t allowed to think for yourself. Now that I know what freedom and liberty is, I want everyone else to experience it too,” Khmelko, UC Foundation Assistant Professor of Political Science, Public Administration, and Nonprofit Management, said.

“Freedom and liberty are dreams in many countries. I would like to help everyone achieve those dreams,” she continued.

Khmelko was approached by USAID to analyze surveys and present her findings as part of the Parliamentary Development Project for Ukraine (PDP II). The mission of PDP II is to provide assistance to the Ukrainian parliament and other government officials in creating a more effective, transparent legis­lative government.

Since 1998, PDP II has been using surveys to track institutional development of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, through the analysis of attitudes and opinions of elected officials on the main issues in legislative institution building and functioning of a legislature. In her research, Khmelko found that the parliament had made significant strides in becoming a stronger, more robust legislative institution with greater capacity to execute its representative, legislative, and oversight functions.

“Doing this applied research is the highest validation for my work as a teacher-scholar. I get to apply my knowledge and expertise to practice. So now, when I teach theory and concepts, I don’t have to talk from the books, I know it. I’ve experienced it. My mission at UTC is to help students apply the knowledge they learn in my classroom to real world practice, and this work helps me do that,” Khmelko said.

Dr. David Edwards, Associate Professor of Political Science, Public Administration, and Nonprofit Management, calls Khmelko a dedicated colleague.

“The work she is doing is extremely important. Under the old Soviet Union, the Ukrainian people had a history of subjugation. They haven’t experienced elected parliaments before. They’re still trying to find their way, and Irina’s work is helping the country move closer to a democratic legislature,” he said.

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