Crisis in Ukraine

Leadership Grad Uses Groundbreaking Research to Bring Understanding and Answers to His War-Ravaged Country
by Mindy Hughes, APR & Brook Chalfant

As a resident of Kiev, Ukraine, Artyom Kluchnikov ’14 (Business & Leadership) has watched — and prayed — from up close as political power plays have fiercely divided pro-Russia and pro-Europe Ukrainians. In late 2013 and again in 2014, these very real differences accelerated into deadly, real-life protests in the streets of his city. The results have been alarming.

Kluchnikov confides that the early days and weeks of the conflicts raised safety concerns for him and his family. They felt bittersweet relief as the protests and fighting shifted to Ukraine’s eastern border near Russia.

“Initially, it was quite scary, with fighting in the streets of Kiev and people killed,” he says. “Now, it’s relatively safe, and life continues as usual, although sometimes bomb threats cause the subways to shut down.”

For decades, Ukraine has been mired by corruption, government mismanagement, economic stagnancy and dangerous population decline. The world has watched painfully as civil unrest and political coups have ravaged parts of this war-scorched country. Well before revolution broke out, Kluchnikov, director of operations for International Faith Initiatives (IFI) in Kiev, had chosen what he considered an important but nonescalated doctoral research topic on “differences in perceptions of leadership attributes between Ukrainian and Russian people.”

Now, he sees more clearly than ever how his research points plainly to why people responded so extremely to the conflict of leadership ideals.

“In Ukraine, it’s a more utilitarian way. An authoritarian leader is a safeguard from discrimination and bias,” he shares. “In Russia, people believe a good leader cannot be morally good. He needs to be harsh and rule with an iron fist, otherwise things will not get done. The leader is an unquestionable authority — very harsh, very strict, very firm. That’s why Putin is so popular. He is appealing to those perceptions of an ideal leader.”

Because of his work training pastors in a region needing immense perspective, vision and hope, Kluchnikov wanted to pursue a doctoral degree in leadership. He soon learned that cultural differences would impact his studies.

“Leadership is a strange concept in Russia and Ukraine,” he explains. “The word for ‘leader’ in our language has political or criminal connotations. It doesn’t connect with the business world, so not much research has been done.”

With so little existing research available (one of his only pre-existing sources was a small 2004 Russian study), Kluchnikov’s scholarly exploration of leadership in Russia and Ukraine is groundbreaking and increasingly valuable.

He confined his research to business leaders: middle managers and CEOs of small organizations. But setting up interviews to conduct his research poses challenges.

“It was difficult because of our country’s legacy of secrecy. The fear is still there; it’s part of our mentality. People are not willing to disclose information to people they do not know. They don’t know how the information will be used, and they don’t trust,” he says.
“I had to work through friends and friends of friends. People need a reference point before they will agree to talk.”

As he made connections, Kluchnikov was surprised to learn people in Ukraine and Russia seemed to perceive leadership the same way, talking about similar attributes such as authority, professionalism and morality. “But when I dug deeper into their responses, I found they put completely different values and dynamics on what an authoritarian leader is,” he says. “Utilitarian protection from nepotism versus unquestionable, iron-fisted authority.”

Kluchnikov also discovered freedom is a key point of differentiation between the two cultures, and in his opinion, contributed to the revolution in Ukraine and the support of Putin in Russia.

“Russians don’t understand freedom. In business, their leaders only give a certain degree of freedom to employees to innovate. Other than that, the leader knows everything. Micromanagement is common. Leaders keep a firm grip on employees. This is the expectation on both sides — the leaders and the employees.”

Conversely, he says, “People in Ukraine told me, ‘I would change my job if they robbed me of my freedoms, even if I suffered financially.’”

Kluchnikov believes his research points to other reasons why the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is happening.

“In Russia, once people see somebody as a leader, they also attribute a high moral stance to that person. The leader is ‘of God,’ and they assign a divine attribute to the leader,” he explains. “Russian people see Putin as much more moral than the American president and European leaders. They believe Putin is standing against the moral depravity of the West, and they’re not willing to see the corruption in their own country. Putin has the license to act because he’s a leader. Nobody will question his authority.”

Although he has observed the conflict through an academic lens, Kluchnikov also talks about how it has impacted his work with IFI. Prior to the war, he traveled frequently to Russia, where IFI did about 70 percent of its training. When hostilities broke out, his travel ceased, and IFI is refocusing its efforts to prioritize work in Ukraine — a missionary hub in Eastern Europe.

Since obtaining his Ph.D., Kluchnikov has been more involved with leadership training, developing curriculum in two tracks: one for business leaders that will expose them to Christianity, and one for church leaders to provide training in better management and stewardship.

His work with churches has revealed another dimension to the ongoing conflict — a tension among Christians, composed of the Orthodox Church and Protestants. Russian Orthodox churches are promoting the separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, and Protestant churches primarily are siding with Ukraine.

“It’s the sad reality of things right now,” he says. “Christians try not to speak about these things if they want to maintain relationships. Somehow you have to work through the tension.”

“Addressing in a scholarly manner real-life subjects that you are so passionate about is never an easy task,” says Dr. Mihai Bocarnea, Kluchnikov’s dissertation chair. “But this was God’s perfect timing. Artyom’s research, which ended right before the overt conflicts in Ukraine started, contributes significantly to the understanding of the complex situation there.”

Kluchnikov looks forward to using his own leadership training to expand ministry. He is developing an eight-module seminar series, two of which he has already taught. Next, he hopes to offer practical leadership training to companies and businesses in Ukraine as a form of pre-evangelism, targeting heads of organizations who would never actually attend a church.

“Leadership is a great area to focus on to bring Christ to people,” he says. “You need to do it in subtle ways, discussing worldview, values, and leadership practices in a way that prompts people to think about Christ.” Ultimately, Kluchnikov hopes his work will open a dialogue that helps repair Ukraine as they seek to gain momentum as a truly independent nation.

“In Ukraine… An authoritarian leader is a safeguard. In Russia, people believe a good leader cannot be morally good.”

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