On February 24th, 2022, Liudmyla Dolhonovska woke up to the sounds of breaking glass and loud explosions all around her. Rather than retreat to safety and take cover, Mila grabbed her “go bag” and took to the subway to go to work, leaving her husband and 9-year-old son in their home.

At the time, Dolhonovska was serving as advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi. As a civilian member of the general’s staff, Dolhonovska was under no legal obligation to go back to work, but as a seasoned strategic communications professional, she says she knew what she had to do, “I had to keep people informed.”

In just one day, her social media coverage reached 7 million people on behalf of the commander in chief, keeping Ukrainians up to date on the attacks. She said her time working with General Zaluzhnyi was unique in that he was very open to the Ukrainian people and wanted to communicate openly, including preparations for war, “We all knew it would happen.”

Dolhonovska began working as a civil servant in the armed forces in 2020 after an invitation was extended to create a strategic communications office. Later, she was invited to interview as the Strategic Communications Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief. Dolhonovska served in that capacity until March 2023.

Now, Dolhonovska is leading the President’s Office as a Chief of Staff in American University Kyiv (AUK) which provides a world-class education for Ukrainians.

“I was interested in this position because it’s exciting and working toward a better future. It’s also a chance to get back to a more normal life as I had an academic career before working in government,” she says.

The American University Kyiv is in partnership with Arizona State University and seeks to be a catalyst in change for higher education in Ukraine. Dolhonovska says the American university system is very different than what students in Ukraine might otherwise experience, “It gives you a global ticket, the technology, the structure, it’s all different.”

Among the students at American University Kyiv are veterans. “Education is a great tool for reintegration into society,” says Dolhonovska. To provide additional support to student veterans, the university has webinars for faculty to share information about how to treat veterans and better support them as an educator, including how to prevent addictions and look for warning signs of suicide ideation.

“We can’t replace veteran foundations, but we can support our students in many ways,” says Dolhonovska.

AUK is aiding student veterans get a higher education through the help of an AUK Scholarship Fund partnering with the Ukrainian Veterans Foundation. AMSG contributed to a student scholarship fund as well — the AUK Scholarship Fund provides the unique opportunity for Ukrainian students to earn an American degree while studying in Ukraine. Nine students made up of veterans and children of the fallen heroes benefited from the fund.

Dolhonovska says that making it possible for students in Ukraine to get a solid education is particularly important as the invasion continues. “It gives them hope for a brighter future,” she says, “If we can help even one, it’s already a great motivation for others.”

Written by: Sheila Rupp