Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy named Volodymyr Yelchenko, 60, his envoy to Washington on Thursday. In choosing the soft-spoken but seasoned diplomat, he is putting his faith in Yelchenko to steer relations with the administration of President Donald Trump at a sensitive time.
Ukraine’s new envoy to Washington is no stranger to difficult situations, but he may face some of his biggest professional challenges yet, as he takes up his post in a city politically divided over whether Trump abused the power of his office by withholding military aid to Ukraine for personal political gain.
Yelchenko has been Kyiv’s ambassador to the United Nations since December 2015. His tenure included a two-year rotating seat on the powerful U.N. Security Council from 2016-17.
He came to New York at the height of the crisis in eastern Ukraine, after Russia annexed Crimea and fomented an armed separatist insurgency in the country’s east.
Yelchenko, though calm and even-tempered in public, did not shrink from confrontation with his legendary Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, at numerous Security Council meetings on the crisis.
"Ambassador Yelchenko was quiet one-on-one, but there was nothing shy about him when he represented his country in the Security Council," former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wrote of him in her recent book, "With All Due Respect." She described the Ukrainian envoy as "a genuinely kind man," and one of Washington’s "best friends" on the Security Council.
The Ukrainian diplomat recognized early on the value of public praise in the Trump administration, regularly complimenting Ambassador Haley on Twitter.
He also was never reluctant to engage with the international press corps who cover the United Nations.
This is Yelchenko’s second stint as U.N. ambassador, having previously held the post from 1997 to 2000. He also was Ukraine’s deputy minister for foreign affairs from 2000-2001.
While some might consider Washington in its current political climate a potential "hot seat" for any Ukrainian envoy, Yelchenko is a veteran of difficult postings, having been Kyiv’s ambassador to Moscow from July 2010 until December 2015.
Some of his former Security Council counterparts describe him as "a very talented and principled diplomat," "extremely professional and true to the facts," a "tough negotiator," and having a "great sense of humor." They express confidence he will be successful in Washington.
Additionally, Yelchenko has a lighter side. He is passionate about progressive and heavy metal rock music and often uses his Twitter feed to mention some of his favorite bands.