From World Bank to the Front

Ukraine native Oleh Khalayim studied at Loras College during the Fall 1998 semester as a participant in the Loras-Ukraine Exchange Program.  From 1994 util 2006, two students from Ukrainian universities studied at Loras each semester.  Then, they returned to their home country to conclude their degree work. Oleh has been living in the United States for the past 15 years, but he returned to Ukraine in February and joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine to help defend his homeland when Russia launched an invasion earlier this year.

Oleh was interviewed by High Castle, a Ukrainian newspaper, about his experience. Below is a translated version of the article from the original in Ukrainian . You can find the original article here.


International economist Oleg Halaim came from Washington to defend the Motherland. And he was impressed by the coherence of the actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Nothing about this intelligent 47-year-old man with a quiet “professor’s” voice suggests an officer of the Ukrainian army. As for a warrior, his biography is quite atypical. Oleg Halaim was born in the Maiorivtsi microdistrict of Lviv. He graduated from the Faculty of International Relations of the Franko University and the Military Department. He worked in the secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada, in the Ministry of Economy. He won the competition and went to study in America. At Harvard, he received a master’s degree in public administration and economics. After returning from the USA, he taught at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. He proved himself well in the Kyiv branch of the World Bank and, winning another competition, got to its central office in Washington. He has lived and worked in America for 15 years, got married there, and had a son three years ago. And suddenly there is a full-scale war in Ukraine…

“My mother died a year ago,” recalls Mr. Oleg. — Came to Lviv for a funeral, went to the Military Commissariat on business. There they asked me: if necessary, am I ready to serve in my military specialty? I answered: yes! Even then, the military was preparing for war, calculating its probability.

By the way, the World Bank has a special fund for countries that have the status of “states suffering from conflicts” and special support programs. But Ukraine, which was attacked by Russia in 2014, did not have this status. This status can scare off investors. Perhaps, in the World Bank’s dialogue with Ukraine, they agreed that it is better not to talk about the war. So the absence of the mentioned status indicates that the authorities had optimistic hopes…

So I came to Ukraine in mid-February to visit my father, who is 92 years old, and also to undergo military training (I am a translator by military accounting specialty). Passed the medical board. The scheduled meeting was supposed to begin on Monday, February 28. And on Thursday, February 24, a great war began. On the same day, I came to the Military Commissariat.

— What moved you when you traveled from the United States to war-torn Ukraine?

— I was strongly impressed by the conversation at the Lychakiv-Railway Military Committee in May of last year. I saw people who think strategically, understand the situation with military personnel, know: somewhere you need a master of English, somewhere you need an “Aitishnik”… I was thoroughly discussed by a soldier and his deputy, who specialize in recruiting troops.

— In the imagination of many of our compatriots, the Military Commissariat is a place where, in particular, they “smear” the army…

— Because of this idea, Territorial Defense was formed so well. The state started to create this parallel process of mobilization, perhaps due to the fact that there was a certain mistrust of the military commissars…

— After an eight-month stay in the war, your wife doesn’t call you home?

– Calling, I missed my family. But I tell my wife: it’s not time yet. I will return after the victory.

— And if the war drags on for another year?

— No, not for a year, for less…

— What were your impressions of serving in the Ukrainian army?

— It was surprising how prepared the Armed Forces were for what happened. The army is a big mechanism that works around the clock. The Army involves an insane amount of responsibility from the highest to the lowest levels. And I was impressed that all this works in harmony, that people know who should do what. Many, like me, came from civilian life. Everyone was motivated. It was relatively easy for our commanders, especially during the early days of the war, because even though many of the men were not professional soldiers, they wanted to learn as quickly as possible and were very disciplined. I get insane moral satisfaction from the service. I never thought I would see her like this.

— How do you explain this: the quality of people or the circumstances that have developed?

— Circumstances that forced everyone to mobilize, to perceive tasks in an adult way, to fulfill them clearly and on time. We joked among ourselves: if it was civilian life, we could argue with each other: “we’ll do this or that”, “I’m tired today, so I’ll do it tomorrow”, “I need more time” – but there is none of this in war. We slept on cots, some without sleeping bags, in empty rooms — and at the same time we gave ourselves 100% to work. And all the Armed Forces worked in this mode, including people who saw the army for the first time.

The fact that Ukraine did not lose was a motivating factor for everyone. From the first days, there was a desire for victory, although the word “victory” was not used as often and not as pathetically as it is now.

– Do you send your army pay home – as many of our soldiers do?

– No, I’m not sending it. The wife went to work in the district state administration.

We live in Arlington, a suburb of Washington. It is difficult for the wife. But we received unexpected support. Previously, Kliment was paid 115 dollars for each day of his stay in kindergarten. When the management of the kindergarten found out that I went to defend my country, they informed us that we will not pay for the next few months…

— What is Ukrainian in your American home?

– We have embroideries. My wife loves Ukraine. She was here. Like the entire American society, considers this war very unfair…

My Geneva is Peruvian by nationality, she knows a little of the language of her ancestors – the Incas. We speak English among ourselves, and I speak Ukrainian with my son. I hope they will come to me in Ukraine soon…

— How do Americans, your friends, neighbors, perceive the Russian-Ukrainian war in general?

— One of my friends transferred 20,000 dollars for the needs of the Ukrainian army. Many people come to my wife and ask what kind of help she needs. Since I’m not at home, my neighbors and work colleagues go to supermarkets and make weekly purchases for us with their own funds.

— Are the effects of Russian propaganda felt in America? Have you met with those who do not support Ukraine?

— There are no such people in our social circle. America is very colorful. About 12% of the population there are black, about 25% are Americans of Latin American origin. There are Americans of Indian origin. Representatives of these minorities are present in the government. Vice President Kamala Harris has Indian-Caribbean roots. These people are an important part of American society that supports Ukraine. But in some countries of their origin, they worry less about us.

— What do you think of the behavior of former US presidents Trump and Obama, who advocate compromises with Russia and are ready to play along with it?

— If Ukraine had not won on the battlefield, it would have been supported even less. The growth of the Ukrainian nation, its passage through the millstones of hell, add weight to our country. When we show that we are strong, even more people support us.

There are countries that believe that it is necessary to refrain from considering the “Ukrainian” issue. I do not know to what extent emigrants from these countries are in solidarity with the US government or with the governments of the countries from which they are natives. All of them are Americans, but at the same time they are included in two cultural spaces. It is not known to what extent they transfer the cultural space of America to the countries where they come from, where they have relatives and friends. Or maybe, on the contrary, they gravitate more towards this neutrality-indifference and are transferred to America. But the USA made a strategic decision to support Ukraine, to support democracy, to prevent dictators from winning.

— How do you perceive the latest statements of some representatives of the Republican Party that, in the event of coming to power, they will promote the idea of ​​reducing aid to Ukraine?

— I perceive it as internal political discussions. In America, parliamentary control is strong. We know how deputy ministers are appointed behind the scenes in Ukraine. And in the USA, a candidate for ambassador or deputy minister or director of a department goes to an interview in the profile committee of the Upper House and takes his wife and parents with him. This is not required, but this is the practice. Can you imagine that the potential ambassador of Ukraine to Kenya goes to an interview with a specialized parliamentary committee with mom and dad before being appointed? And in America there is such a thing. I understood the statements you speak of as assurances of greater parliamentary control over American aid.

– You could work in Washington…

— By the way, I don’t work in the United States. I work for the World Bank, which is extraterritorial. It is located in the center of Washington, next to the White House. When I enter the territory of the World Bank, I leave the territory of the United States. Likewise, when I enter the Embassy of Ukraine or the UN headquarters in New York, I am leaving the territory of the United States.

Ukraine has its own small part in the World Bank. Poland has it. The United States has most of the WB. Russia is also a member of the World Bank…

— Before the war, international financial institutions were literally shaking over every dollar-euro for Ukraine, they furnished these loans with various requirements. Now they give us funds almost without delay. What has changed?

— When it came to Ukraine’s candidacy in the European Union, we were given seven demands for reforms. During the war, we fulfilled them! I think to myself: the way we worked in our small coordinated team, everyone works in the same teams at the state level. Therefore, perhaps it is now much easier for us to fulfill these demands, which previously caused discussions, maybe sabotage.

— Do you see reforms in our civilian life? How have we changed for the better?

— The scope of the construction is striking. Many beautiful new houses appeared in Lviv. Aesthetics is felt. Someone will say: where are the social reforms? All this will happen over time. Our education, our architects who have learned to build beautifully, our talented “Aitishniks” are what the world is paying attention to.

– Have you made friends in the army for eight months?

– So. And we are strong friends. In order to decide on friends, a person needs to go through joint trials, empathize – to form together as individuals. There are not many such opportunities in the civil life of adults. My favorite philosopher, Immanuel Kant, argued that decent, conscientious adults cannot have friends because it discriminates and leads to nepotism. That is why people are friends from childhood or from school – when you gain experience that shapes you. You can go to the office with people, drink coffee, and you won’t get to know the person. It does not form a personality.

– What does your vacation look like during the war?

— For a while, I watched movies with my siblings. And then they were discussed. Sometimes, guys asked me to teach them English – to develop. And I taught them on American cartoons for adults – parodies of “The Great Gatsby” by Scott Fitzgerald.

— You slandered that the current war will not drag on for long… What gives grounds for such optimism?

– The enemy is exhausted. This is indicated by his rattling of nuclear weapons, appeals for help to countries that are not at the peak of scientific and technological progress. Remember how in Russia the decision on mobilization was postponed, delayed and delayed, and when it was announced, people began to flee the country. In our country, on the contrary, with the beginning of the great war, there were queues at the military commissariats. Watch how Putin reprimands the president of Tajikistan!

– How, in your opinion, can the war end: by military or diplomatic means?

— This is not a question for an officer of the Armed Forces… The war will definitely end with our victory. Ukraine will fully restore sovereignty over its territories. Today, the Russian elite cannot imagine that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will de-occupy Crimea. And once Austria could not imagine that it would be so small now. The Germany of Hitler’s time could not imagine that it would be under occupation, that it would be disunited for a while, that the city where Immanuel Kant was born and worked would belong to Russia. Britain could not imagine that the sun would pass over it very quickly – and once upon a time the sun did not set over the British Empire…